Cameroonian Soldiers Again Kill Unarmed People, Says Amnesty International

On August 10 Amnesty International released a video that purportedly shows Cameroonian soldiers executing unarmed people in the country’s Far North region sometime before May 2016.[1]

According  to the organization’s Ilaria Allegrozzi, “This shocking video shows armed men lining people up face down or sitting against a wall and shooting them with automatic weapons. A second round of shooting ensures no survivors. Here is yet more credible evidence to support the allegations that Cameroon’s armed forces have committed grave crimes against civilians, and we are calling for an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation. Those suspected to be responsible for these abhorrent acts must be brought to justice.”

Cameroon’s ambassador to the U.S., Henri Etoundi Essomba, told The Washington Post that he was unaware of the latest video, so he could not comment directly on it, but he said, “No one can condemn Cameroon on video without making sure that what [they are seeing] is supporting reality. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone in the sense that people are willing to portray the country in the darkest way possible.”

In Cameroon Tchiroma Bakary, a government spokesman, told Reuters that the latest video could be investigated, but that there is an ongoing “denigration” campaign attempting to tarnish President Paul Biya ahead of October elections. Biya, who has led the country since 1982, is running for reelection. “We are in an electoral period and it’s conducive to this kind of thing,” he told Reuters. “People want to discredit the army and president.”

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[1] Amnesty Int’l, CAMEROON: New Video Shows More Brutal Killings by Armed Forces (Aug. 10, 2018); O’Grady,  Video footage appears to show Cameroonian security forces executing unarmed people, Amnesty says, Wash. Post (Aug. 10, 2018); Kouaheu, Cameroon investigates video that shows security forces apparently executing civilians, Reuters (Aug. 10, 2018). Earlier reports of violence in Cameroon are listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CAMEROON.

Cameroon: U.N. Human Rights Chief Expresses Great Concern About Violence

As reported on prior posts, Cameroon recently has been experiencing great violence between the Cameroonian military forces, on one side, and separatists and Boko Haram, on other sides. Recently a video on social media appeared to show Cameroonian soldiers executing two women, a baby and a young girl, and the U.S., among others, had urged the Cameroonian government to conduct an immediate and transparent investigation.[1]

Now on July 25, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, issued a statement expressing “deep alarm at persistent reports of human rights violations and abuses in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, as well as in the Extreme North.”[2]

He also said, “it was regrettable that the Government of Cameroon had failed to grant the UN Human Rights Office access to the Northwest and Southwest despite repeated requests.” Such access would enable the U.N. “to verify allegations made against both security forces and armed elements” regarding “violence against Cameroonians in the western part of the country.”

Since 2017 “the situation has worsened considerably . . . [with] reports that armed elements have carried out kidnappings, targeted killings of police and local authorities, extortion and have torched schools. . . .[and] that Government forces are responsible for killings, the excessive use of force, burning down of houses, arbitrary detentions and torture.”

He condemned “the ambush on 13 July near the town of Kumba in the Southwest region on a Minister of Defense convoy.” In addition, he said he was “’utterly appalled’ by a horrific video reportedly showing members of the armed forces executing two woman, a child and a baby accused of being members of Boko Haram. . . . [and] am deeply worried that these killings captured on camera may not be isolated cases.”

In light of these horrible events, the High Commissioner urged “the Government to launch independent investigations into the reports of human rights violations by State security forces as well as abuses by armed elements.”

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[1] See posts listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CAMEROON.

[2] U.N. High Commission for Human Rights, UN Human Rights Chief deeply alarmed by reports of serious rights breaches in Cameroon (July 25, 2018); Searsey, Shooting on Video in Cameroon ‘May Not Be Isolated Cases,’ U.N. Fears, N.Y. Times (July 25, 2018).

Accusations About Perpetrators of ‘Grave Abuses’ in Cameroon    

Prior posts have discussed Cameroon’s deadly confrontations with Boko Haram terrorists in the northern part of the country and the violent conflicts between its Anglophone and Francophone populations. [1] Here is a report on developments in these matters plus the country’s upcoming presidential election.

The Anglophone-Francophone Conflict[2]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on July 19 blamed both sides for “grave abuses” against civilians and the forced evacuations of more than 180,000 people from their homes.  HRW said, “Anglophone separatists have extorted, kidnapped and killed civilians, and prevented children from going to school. In response to protests and violence by armed separatists, government forces have killed civilians, used excessive force against demonstrators, tortured and mistreated suspected separatists and detainees, and burned hundreds of homes in several villages.”

The Cameroonian government, rejecting the HRW report, said the level of force it used remained “proportional to the extent of the threat.” It also condemned separatist attacks and defended its security forces, saying all alleged atrocities are investigated. Just because such investigations “are not always widely disseminated to the public does not in any way mean that they are not taken.”

The Boko Haram Conflict

As discussed in a prior post, on July 12 Amnesty International (AI) reported the existence of a grainy video on social media showing two women — one with a baby on her back and another holding hands with a young child — walking across a dirt patch. Behind them were armed men one of whom yells in French “You are B.H.[Boko Haram], you are going to die.” The men blindfolded them and forced them to kneel. The armed men then raised their rifles and shot them.

Four days later the U.S. Government issued a statement expressing it was  “gravely concerned” over this incident and called on “the Government of Cameroon to investigate thoroughly and transparently the events depicted in the video and to take appropriate steps to bring the men to justice.

On July 19 the Cameroonian Government announced that it had arrested four soldiers suspected of killing the women and children, and an army officer in that region said the arrestees “are suspected of being the authors of the executions in the video.” Four other Cameroonian military sources told Reuters that the video did show Cameroonian soldiers and that the video was filmed in 2014 or 2015 in the early operations against Boko Haram.[3]

Cameroon’s Upcoming Presidential Election

 Meanwhile, more than 20 candidates have registered to run against longtime President Paul Biya in October’s presidential election. Attempts to have opposition forces back one candidate failed, making Biya’s reelection most likely.[4]

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[1] See List of Posts in dwkcommentaries—Topical: CAMEROON.

[2] Human Rights Watch, Cameroon: Killings, Destruction in Anglophone Regions (July 19, 2018); Human Rights Watch, “These Killings Can Be Stopped,” (July 19, 2018); Human Rights Watch, Interview: Stoking Fires in Cameroon (July 19, 2018); Maclean, Cameroon’s military accused of burning alive unarmed civilians, Guardian (July 20, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cameroon Military, Separatists Blamed for ‘Grave Abuses,’ N.Y. Times (July 19, 2018).

[3]  Reuters, Cameroon Arrests Four Soldiers Suspected of Executing Women and Children, N.Y. Times (July 19, 2018).

[4] Assoc. Press, Cameroon: 20-Plus Candidates Seek Presidency in October Vote, N.Y, Times (July 20, 2018).

Cameroon: Conflict with U.S. Ambassador and  Reported Extrajudical Executions 

Cameroon has emerged again in international news coverage over conflict with the U.S. Ambassador and reported extrajudicial executions of two women, a child and a baby in the northern part of the country.

Conflict with U.S. Ambassador

This coming October 7 Cameroon will hold its presidential election, and the only viable candidate is the 85- year-old  Paul Biya, who has been President for the last 36 years.[1] Recently Cameroon has accused the U.S. Ambassador Peter Henry Barlerin, a career diplomat, of improper meddling in this upcoming election.

The problem arose on May 17,  when the U.S. Ambassador, released a press statement about his meeting that day with President Biya. The last point of that statement asserted that “the President and I discussed upcoming elections.  ‎I suggested to the President that he should be thinking about his legacy and how he wants to be remembered in the history books to be read by generations to come, and proposed that George Washington and Nelson Mandela‎ were excellent models.”[2] Each of them, of course, left their countries presidencies after only one term.

This comment by the  Ambassador’s “caused an uproar among officials in Cameroon and in the local media, which accused him of trying to influence a foreign election. Mr. Barlerin even received death threats.[3]

Five days after the Ambassador’s comments, May 22, Cameroon’s Minister of External Relations, H.E. Mbella Mbella, summoned the Ambassador to the Ministry and told him that the Cameroonian government strongly disapproved of his statement as flouting all diplomatic practice, civility and the law. Discussions between an ambassador and a head of state, according to the Minister, are privileged and confidential. The Minister also said that the Cameroonian people had fairly elected and re-elected Mr. Biya as their president, that Cameroon would not tolerate any foreign interference or meddling in its elections and that the Ambassador’s allegations regarding conduct of Cameroon’s defense and security forces were unfounded.[4]

Late last month, the Ambassador’s “photo was plastered across the covers of at least three local newspapers, which accused him of paying nearly $5 million to opposition candidates in the presidential race.” The U.S. Embassy released a statement calling this story  “entirely false.”

This diplomatic spat occurs while the country is going through a violent conflict between the majority of the population who speak French (the Francophones) and the minority who speak English (the Anglophones).[5]

Reported Extrajudicial Executions[6]

The country also has been battling Boko Haram extremists in its northern region. The latest in this conflict was a July 12 Amnesty International (AI) report of a grainy video on social media showing two women — one with a baby on her back and another holding hands with a young child — walking across a dirt patch. Armed men walk behind them, and one yells in French “You are B.H. [Boko Haram], you are going to die.” The men blindfold them and force them to kneel. Then they raise their rifles and shoot them.

According to AI , its experts have “gathered credible evidence that it was Cameroonian soldiers depicted in a video carrying out the horrific extrajudicial executions of two women and two young children.” The human rights group says the video was probably shot in Cameroon’s far north region, where Cameroonian forces have been fighting to push back Boko Haram extremists over the past several years. The Cameroonian government said it would investigate, while expressing skepticism about this analysis of the video.

On July 16, the U.S. State Department stated it was “gravely concerned” over this incident and called on “the Government of Cameroon to investigate thoroughly and transparently the events depicted in the video, make its findings public, and if Cameroonian military personnel were involved in this atrocity, hold them accountable.” This was necessary because “all countries, including Cameroon, must uphold their international and national commitments and obligations to protect the human rights of their residents and promote accountability.‎”

 

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[1] In a July 13, tweet, Biya announced that he was running for re-election. He said, “”I am willing to respond positively to your overwhelming calls. I will stand as Your Candidate in the upcoming presidential election.” (Reuters, Cameroon’s Veteran President Makes bid for Seventh Term, N.Y. Times (July 13, 2018).)

[2] U.S. Embassy in Cameroon, Ambassador Barlerin’s Statement to the Press (May 17, 2018).

[3] Searcey & Essomba, In Troubled Cameroon, U.S. Envoy Is Accused of Election Meddling, N.Y. Times (July 12, 2018).

[4] Mbella Mbella, Cameroon: Accusations By U.S. Ambassador—Government Expresses Strong Disapproval, allAfrica (May 22, 2018).

[5] See List of Posts in dwkcommentaries—Topical: CAMEROON.

[6] Amnesty Int’l, Cameroon: Credible evidence that Army personnel responsible for shocking extrajudicial executions caught on video (July 12, 2018);  O’Grady, Video appears to show Cameroonian soldiers executing women and children, Amnesty says, Wash. Post (July 14, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Statement: Video of Executions in Cameroon (July 16, 2018)

 

Global Update on Human Rights Concerns by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights

On June 18, 2018, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights,  Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, delivered his final Global Update on Human Rights Concerns to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.[1]

He opened with what he called “some final reflections.”

First, there are indeed universal human rights; they are not alien, Western values.

Second, these rights are now under attack—” not only from the violent extremists, like the Takfiris, but also from authoritarian leaders, populists, demagogues, cultural relativists, some Western academics, and even some UN officials.”  This is due to “the most destructive force to imperil the world, chauvinistic nationalism – when raised to feral extremes by self-serving, callous leaders, and amplified by mass ideologies which themselves repress freedom. The UN was conceived in order to prevent its rebirth. Chauvinistic nationalism is the polar opposite of the UN, it’s very antonym and enemy.”

Third, the U.N. itself is not doing enough to combat this chauvinistic nationalism. This is due to “too many governments represented at the UN will often pull in the opposing direction: feigning a commitment to the common effort, yet fighting for nothing more than their thinly-thought interests, taking out as much as they can from the UN, politically, while not investing in making it a true success. The more pronounced their sense of self-importance – the more they glory in nationalism – the more unvarnished is the assault by these governments on the overall common good: on universal rights, on universal law and universal institutions, such as [the Human Rights Council].”

Fourth, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights clearly has recognized that “only fearlessness is adequate to our task at this point in time. Not ducking for cover, or using excuses or resorting to euphemisms, but a fearlessness approaching that shown by human rights defenders around the world – for only by speaking out can we begin to combat the growing menace of chauvinistic nationalism that stalks our future..”

The High Commissioner then reviewed human rights concerns in many countries around the world. One was Cameroon, about which he said the following:

  • “In Cameroon, I trust that recent promising discussions with the authorities will swiftly lead to approval for a mission by the Office [of the High Commissioner] to all parts of the country. To date this access has been refused, despite the growing crisis in the Anglophone regions, with fighting between up to a dozen armed groups and the security forces. We have received reports of abuses and violations by all sides, including burning of schools and private property; mass arrests and arbitrary detentions; and the use of torture and excessive force by security personnel, leading to the displacement of 150,000 people within the country and over 20,000 to neighboring Nigeria.”

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[1] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Opening statement and global update of human rights concerns by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Hussein at 38th session of the Human Rights Council (June 18, 2018)

Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: The UPR Hearing                    

This year Cameroon’s human rights record is the subject of its third  Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior posts reviewed the nature of the UPR process and the pre-hearing papers for this UPR. Now we review Cameroon’s May 16 UPR hearing with a focus on the various comments made about the current conflict between the majority Francophones and the minority Anglophones.[1]

This hearing was limited to 3 ½ hours (210 minutes) and each of the 76 countries was limited to 1 minute 25 seconds (85 seconds).

Cameroon Government’s Comments

The Cameroon Government opened the hearing with comments by H.E. Mr. Mbella Mbella, its Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Near the end of his remarks, he said, “The social crisis in the North-West and South-West (Anglophone regions) began at the end of 2015 with strikes of lawyers and teachers. In response the government created the National Commission of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism to protect and ensure the balance of security and freedom.”

Earlier he laboriously discussed the process of preparing this national report, the implementation of recommendations from the prior UPR, the ratification of various human rights treaties, the adoption of the National Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and the records of prosecutions and convictions for violations of human rights.

U.N.  Members’ Comments

There were 76 governments that made comments at the hearing (32 of whom were also Human Rights Council members plus 44 other U.N. members). Most of the comments and recommendations concerned Cameroon’s ratifying and enforcing various international human rights treaties, protecting the rights of children, women and LGBTQ people and other topics.

However, only the following 14 countries specifically addressed the current conflict between the Francophone-Anglophone communities:

  • Australia. Concerned about “recent violence between Cameroon security forces and protesting minority groups in [its] South-West and North-West [regions].” Recommends Cameroon “lift unnecessary restrictions on freedom of assembly, investigate alleged excessive use of force in disbursing demonstrators and assure arrested protestors receive fair trials.”
  • Austria. Concerned about “deterioration of the situation of the communities in the Anglophone regions of the country.” Recommended “ending the practice of secret detentions and ensure that no one is detained in a secret site, including unregistered military detention sites.” Recommended Cameroon “engage in a dialogue at the policy level with representatives of the Anglophone communities so as to identify appropriate measures to adequately respond to the violence affecting the South-West and North-West regions.”
  • Belgium. Concerned about “repressive approach in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon that runs the risk of exacerbating violent tendencies when there is a need for dialogue.” Recommended that Cameroon “take appropriate measures to ensure that the security forces act in compliance with laws and international human rights standards, conduct “independent and transparent inquiries on allegations of excessive use of force and bring perpetrators to justice.”
  • Canada.. Expressed “condolences to families of victims of violence… especially … as a result of tensions linked to claims of Anglophone community in North-West and South-West. Recommended that Cameroon “engage in sustained dialogue with representatives of the Anglophone community in North-West and South-West so as to provide consensus-based solutions while upholding human rights.”
  • Chile. Concerned with “general crime environment that exists in the English-speaking areas of the country as well as the accepted use of force against protestors in these regions.”
  • Czech Republic. Recommended “investigation of alleged torture and other ill treatment of other detained persons and incommunicado detainees.” Recommended “recognition of the right of citizens to express their views in dealing with programs of the English-speaking provinces.”
  • Germany. Concerned about reports of “violations of freedom of press and assembly, especially in the English-speaking areas of the country.”
  • Haiti. Recommended “effective implementation of the official Bilingualism Policy in consultation with all stakeholders to ensure equal treatment of the English-speaking minority.”
  • Honduras. Recommended “effective implementation of the Bilingualism Policy so as to ensure the English-speaking population does not suffer discrimination in employment, education and access to legal services.”
  • Republic of Korea. Recommended that Cameroon “redouble its efforts for the full and effective implementation of the official bilingual policy and ensure that the Anglophone minority are not subject to inequality in access to public services, administration of justice and freedom of speech. “
  • Slovakia. Concerned by “reports of human rights violations and abuses such as arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial executions by government forces and armed forces against members of the country’s Anglophone minority.”
  • Switzerland. Concerned by “violations of fundamental freedoms in the framework of the Anglophone crisis and anti-terrorism efforts. Demonstrations have been violently repressed and arbitrary arrests and detentions in difficult conditions have been made. “ Recommended that Cameroon’s “anti-terrorism law be reviewed and amended to ensure it is not used to restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly. “Recommended that “any reported cases of violations or abuses by Cameroon’s security forces are subjected to independent inquiry and prosecution.”
  • United Kingdom. Noted that “the Anglophone crisis has led to violence and disruption to many people and urged the government and all parties to fully respect and guard human rights.” Recommended that the government “allow various international agencies to have access to Anglophone separatists leaders extradited by Nigeria and held incommunicado by Cameroon since January 2018.”
  • United States. U.S. expressed concern overcredible allegations of human rights violations and abuses by security forces.  We call on the government to credibly investigate these allegations and hold those responsible to account.  We are also concerned by reports of harassment and intimidation of youth, civil society, journalists, and opposition leaders, particularly in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, as well as restrictions on the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression.” (Emphases added.)

The U.S. also called on the Cameroon government “to respect the human rights of everyone, including the 47 [Anglophone] Cameroonians forcibly returned from Nigerian custody to Cameroonian authorities in January.  We expect the government of Cameroon to afford all individuals detained all of the rights and protections provided under domestic and international law.” (Emphasis added.)

 Finally the U.S. made these recommendations: “(1) Acknowledge and investigate credible allegations of human rights violations and abuses, and hold those responsible to account.(2) Respect the rights of peaceful assembly, and freedoms of association and expression, including when exercised online, and afford all of those detained all the rights enshrined in Cameroon’s constitution and under international law. (3) Decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations and immediately cease targeted discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons.”[2]

It also is noteworthy that France, which governed what is now the Francophone area of Cameroon after World War I until 1960, made comments without saying anything about the current Francophone-Anglophone conflict. Nor did two members of the troika for this UPR—Iraq and South Africa—while the third member of that group—United Kingdom—did as noted above.

Cameroon Government’s Response

At the end of the hearing, Cameroon’s Foreign Minister made a lengthy response to the many comments made by the other countries. He ended those remarks with the following extensive comments about the “Anglophone problem.”

“After World War II, under U.N. supervision, we obtained independence from France and the United Kingdom and created a single country by merging the two colonial states. There were not separate English-speaking and French-speaking countries, and now these linguistic groups have merged and are mixed and cannot be separated.”

“At the end of 2016 there was a corporate clamor by lawyers and teachers’ unions in the South-West and North-West. The government responded to these claims, and now no unions are making claims.”

“Some extremists used the unions claims to question the structure of the state by arguing for federalism. But the Constitution did not permit federalism. Instead the President asked for dialogue. Thus, the Prime Minister and Head of government intervened to conduct dialogue with the North-West and South-West. This resulted in a major decision to create the Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, which recognized the country was a multi-ethnic state with different linguistic communications.”

“Nevertheless, the extremists continued to commit acts of violence—burning houses, kidnapping, rape and destructive calls for hatred of communities.”

“But there is no Anglophone problem as such. Instead the government is working for some decentralization without giving in to the violence. There has been progress in these efforts. Not all are asking for a separate country.”

“The states in the North-West and South-West maintain law and order and seek to protect the people against abuses and to assure freedom of expression and movement without violence.”

“Some of the protesters have treated law enforcement officers like animals by cutting off their arms and feet. No one will tolerate this.”

“There are no extrajudicial executions.”

“Pursuant to Cameroon’s extradition treaty with Nigeria, Cameroon requested, and Nigeria granted, extradition of 47 Cameroonians who had committed acts of terrorism in Cameroon. They are not refugees. In Cameroon they are properly housed and will answer to the rule of law with assistance of counsel. They were not arbitrarily arrested. Instead they were arrested in Nigeria pursuant to international arrest warrants.”

“There is freedom of expression in Cameroon marked by openness in media. There are 1,200 publications, 25 private television channels, 25 private cable channels and 107 private radio stations. This freedom of expression has been enhanced by a 2015 law about electronic communications and the creation of a special fund for audio-visual communications.”

“In 2017 there was a temporary suspension of the internet in the North-West and South-West due to some messages promoting violence. On April 20, 2017 the Minister of Communications advised global operators to reset connections.”

Conclusion

The final stage of the Cameroon UPR will take place in September 2018, at which time the final report will be presented by the Troika.

The comments about the Francophone-Anglophone conflict by 14 countries and by the Foreign Minister’s concluding comments will be discussed in a future post. Another post will address this blogger’s general reactions to the UPR process that are raised by his review of the recent UPR process for Cameroon and for Cuba.

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[1] U.N. Human Rts. Council,  Cameroon Review—30th Session of Universal Periodic Review (May 16, 2018)  The following quotations and analysis of the comments by the Cameroon Foreign Minister and by U.N. members are based upon listening to their recorded comments in English or translated into English by U.N. interpreters when some of their voices were difficult to hear or understand. Thus, there may be errors in the following account of their comments. The exception is the U.S. which published its comments on the website for the U.S. Mission to the U.N., Geneva.

[2] U.S. Mission, Geneva Switzerland, U.S. Statement at the UPR of Cameroon (May 16, 2018).

 

U.N. Agency Seeks Emergency Aid for South-West and North-West Cameroon     

In May 2018 the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a global call for humanitarian aid for the South-West and North-West regions of Cameroon. [1]

According to OCHA, “In November 2017, the sociopolitical crisis progressively translated into insecurity and armed violence. Since then, the escalation of tension and upsurge in hostilities between non-state armed groups and defense and security forces have triggered humanitarian needs across the two regions, linked to significant internal displacement. In recent months, the epicentre of the crisis moved from Bamenda (North-West) to Mamfe and Kumba (SouthWest). All divisions in the South-West region, host to more than 1.4 million inhabitants, are affected by the crisis.”

“The South-West Region [says OCHA] has become the hub of the crisis as it is home to more than 90% of the 160,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in need of humanitarian assistance; 135,000 are located in Meme Division and 15,000 in Manyu Division. The remaining 10,000 are displaced in the North-West Region.”

As a result, OCHA has identified the pressing need for people in these areas for shelter, health, access to safe drinking water and sanitation, education, food security (including livelihood) and protection of civilians.

Conclusion

A copy of this post will be sent to the American Refugee Committee with headquarters in Minneapolis and to others with requests for assistance. Other readers are urged to reach out to church and other civic leaders plus public officials to alert them to this need and to seek their assistance.

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[1]  OCHA, Emergency Response Plan: CAMEROON North-West and South-West (May 2018)