U.S. Reactions to Recent Developments in Cameroon

Over the last several years, Cameroon, a country of 15.7 million people on the west coast of Africa, has been engaged in armed conflict between its central government, which is controlled by the population’s 2/3 majority of Francophones (French-speaking people), and the minority Anglophones (English-speaking people).[1]

As covered in a prior post, in a September 10 speech Cameroon President Paul Biya called for a National Dialogue about the conflict between the country’s Anglophones and Francophones. Here we will examine U.S. actions and statements about Cameroon this year, before and after that speech.

State Department Statements About Cameroon [2]

Surprisingly for this blogger, the State Department has not issued any statement, pro or con, on the Biya speech or the National Dialogue. Instead, the Department, before and after the speech, has issued negative comments about the country other than the brief congratulations on its National Day on May 20 while also noting that the U.S. “supports the people of Cameroon, and remains committed to working with Cameroonians to strengthen democracy, governance, human rights, and rule of law.”

On February 6, 2019, the U.S. suspended certain military aid to Cameroon because of alleged human rights abuses by the country’s security forces. The Department said, “The reason for this action was concern over alleged human rights abuses by the country’s security forces. We do not take these measures lightly, but we will not shirk from reducing assistance further if evolving conditions require it. We emphasize that it is in Cameroon’s interest to show greater transparency in investigating credible allegations of gross violations of human rights security forces, particularly in the Northwest, Southwest, and Far North Regions.”

On April 9, 2019, Cameroon was included in a general Department Media Note about Updates to Safety and Security Messaging for U.S. Travelers, which stated that its public Travel Advisories for Cameroon and some other countries had “added a new risk indicator [K] to our public Travel Advisories in order to communicate more clearly to U.S. citizens the risks of kidnapping and hostage taking by criminal and terrorist actors around the world.”

On July 9, 2019, the Department publicly designated Cameroon’s Inspector General of the Cameroonian Gendarmerie, Colonel Jean Claude Ango Ango, due U.S. to his involvement in significant corruption related to wildlife trafficking. Pursuant to a federal statute, the Colonel and his wife were ineligible for entry into the U.S.

And on October 31, President Trump announced that effective January 1, the U.S. would suspend Cameroon’s participation in a U.S. preferential trade program because “the Government of Cameroon currently engages in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. . . . Despite intensive engagement between the United States and the Government of Cameroon, Cameroon has failed to address concerns regarding persistent human rights violations being committed by Cameroonian security forces.  These violations include extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and torture.”

An individual, perhaps with Cameroonian connections (Joel Ademisoye), registered objections to this U.S. suspension of that country’s eligibility for certain trade benefits. He said, “interestingly and unfortunately, President Trump has weaponized and turned the [African Growth and Opportunity Act] AGOA into an economic instrument to intervene, ameliorate and solve a political crisis in Cameroon.” This is “an inappropriate way to address a volatile political issue that centers on historic, cultural and linguistic fault lines in Cameroon. Preventing Cameroon access to the U.S. market would have significant negative effects on the powerless and poor in Cameroon.” Instead, he opines, “Mr. Trump should restrict the supply of military weapons to and ban assistance for police training to the Biya administration because of its effective employment of the country’s security forces to oppress, subjugate and kill the Anglophone people in Cameroon and deny them their human rights.”

 U.S. Embassy in Cameroon [3]

On October 1, the U.S. Embassy issued its only statement regarding the National Dialogue, which was mentioned in President Biya’s speech. It was made to clarify the role of the U.S. in Cameroon’s National Dialogue by saying the U.S. “is a neutral observer of the process and, while we have offered to play a role in identifying an eventual solution, we would need to be asked by both sides before taking on this role. The United States remains a committed partner and friend of Cameroon.  Our desire is for all Cameroonians to live in peace.  The Embassy urges all involved in the conflict in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest to abjure further violence and enter into an open-ended dialogue.”

The Embassy also has made the following comments on some of the continued unrest in the country.

  • On October 5, the Embassy welcomed Cameroon’s “decision to drop charges against Maurice Kamto and other members and supporters of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) arrested following election protests earlier this year.  Their release from prison today is a constructive step toward relieving political tensions and affirming the government’s commitment to respect for fundamental freedoms.  We hope further measures will be taken in the wake of the recently concluded National Dialogue, leading to the restoration of peace in the Northwest and Southwest Regions.”
  • On October 11, the Embassy condemned “the horrific late September aggravated assault, murder, and beheading of a female prison official and mother of three in the Northwest Region of Cameroon.  We extend our deepest condolences to her surviving family. We urge the authorities to undertake a thorough and balanced investigation of this and other atrocities and bring the perpetrators to a fair and transparent trial.”“More violence is not the answer.  We call on both sides to the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest to abjure further violence and to enter into an open-ended dialogue without pre-conditions.”
  • On November 12, it was a “Demonstration Alert” about “the potential for demonstrations and unrest related to a reported ban on motorcycle taxis in certain areas within Yaoundé.  There is currently a heightened law enforcement presence at roundabouts and other intersections throughout the city.”
  • On November 20, it was a “Security Alert,” which stated, “S. citizens in the North and Far North Regions of Cameroon should take all necessary precaution to prevent attacks, kidnappings, or other associated actions by terrorist groups seeking to retaliate for the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.   The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that our April 9, 2019, Travel Advisory for Cameroon advises no travel to these regions due to the threat of crime, kidnapping, and terrorism.”

In addition, the U.S. Embassy has made the following recent positive comments about the country that say or suggest the U.S. was still supporting the Cameroon government.[5]

  • On September 26, the Embassy published U.S. remarks congratulating Cameroon on “the many successes of the PREDICT 2 project, funded by the United States government.  This project is just one of the many ways that the United States is partnering every day with Cameroon for a healthy, prosperous, and peaceful future for the people of this country.”
  • On October 17, the U.S. Ambassador presented self-help and refugee awards to seven Cameroonians. He emphasized that the U.S. “is a committed partner to all Cameroonians who are striving to improve the governance, prosperity, peace, and health of their fellow citizens. . . . We know that it is Cameroonians who will bring sustainable solutions to the critical problems of their country.”
  • On October 18, the U.S. Ambassador awarded “over 42 million FCFA to seven Cameroonian organizations working for the development, health, and prosperity of their communities” as “an example of the [U.S.] commitment to its partnership with Cameroon.”
  • On October 20, the U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon gave a speech in Yaoundé (the country’s capitol) congratulating Cameroon and certain other African countries for progress in fighting the disease of meningitis.
  • On October 24, the Embassy welcomed the “voluntary return” of groups of refugees to the neighboring country of the Central African Republic (CAR) and congratulated the “governments of Cameroon and [CAR and ] UN High Commissioner of Refugees “for their cooperation and goodwill.” The U.S. “is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Cameroon, having contributed over $87 million since 2018 to humanitarian actors to provide food, water, shelter, and other services benefitting refugees and other vulnerable populations.  We encourage other countries to contribute more to the urgent needs of refugees and vulnerable populations in Cameroon in a way that supports progress toward stability, good governance, and self-reliance. We recognize the hospitality of the government of the Republic of Cameroon and of the Cameroonian people in continuing to host more than 400,000 refugees from neighboring countries.  Protecting the rights of refugees and ensuring they have access to jobs and education for their children is fundamental.”
  • On October 30, the Embassy congratulated Cameroon on the first international certification of a blood bank in the country.
  • On October 31, the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon released a statement expressing deep sadness over “the loss of life, destruction of homes, and displacement of people due to floods and landslides in the neighborhood of Gouache near the West Region’s capital city of Bafoussam.  We convey our deepest condolences to the families of those who have died or been injured and to the Government of Cameroon.  The United States expresses its solidarity with the people of the West region and stands ready to work with the regional and national authorities as they respond to the humanitarian needs resulting from this natural disaster.”
  • On November 1, the U.S. Embassy released a statement about the previously mentioned U.S. decision to terminate certain trade benefits for the country as of January 1, 2020. But its headline was “U.S. Commitment to Cameroon Remains Strong Despite Change in AGOA Status.” The statement itself said the U.S. remains “committed to working with Cameroon to [meet the criteria for that trade status]. In 2018, Cameroon exported roughly $220 million in goods and services to the United States; $63 million was exported under AGOA, over 90 percent of which was crude petroleum.  The United States is a committed partner and friend of Cameroon, and we will continue to pursue robust and diverse commercial ties, working with other tools at our disposal toward realizing the enormous potential of this relationship for our mutual prosperity and economic growth.”

Conclusion

The difference in the messaging of the State Department and the Embassy is striking. While it is easy to understand the Embassy’s desire to maintain good relations with the country, this blogger finds it unusual that this messaging was not repeated or endorsed by the Department.

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[1] See generally List of Posts to dwkcommentareis—Topical: CAMEROON.

[2] State Dep’t, Cameroon’s National Days National Day (May 20, 2019); U.S. Announces Suspension of Military Aid to Cameroon, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 7, 2019); U.S. Announces Suspension of Military Aid to Cameroon, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 7, 2019); State Dep’t, U.S. Department of State Announces Updates to Safety and Security Messaging for U.S. Travelers (April 9, 2019); State Dep’t, Public Designation, Due to Involvement in Significant Corruption, of the Republic of Cameroon’s Jean Claude Ango Ango (July 9, 2019); White House, Message to the Congress (Oct. 31, 2019); Paquette, Trump ends trade benefits for Cameroon over ‘persistent human rights violations,’ Wash. Post (Nov. 1, 2019; Letter to Editor from Joel Ademisoye,  Wash. Post (Nov. 6, 2019).

[3] U.S. Embassy, PRESS RELEASE: Clarification of U.S. role In Cameroon’s National Dialogue (Oct. 3, 2019); U.S. Embassy, The Charge d’Affairs’ Speech during the Closeout Ceremony of the USAID Predict Project (Sept. 26, 2019); U.S. Embassy, U.S. Embassy, Media Publishers Called to be Good Managers (Oct. 3, 2019); U.S. Embassy, Ambassador PeterBarlerin’s Remarks at the 2018 Ambassador’s Special Self-Help and Julia Taft Refugee Fund Small Grant Presentation Ceremony (Oct. 17, 2019); U.S. Embassy, PRESS RELEASE: Ambassador Awards Grants to Help Local Communities (Oct. 18, 2019);U.S. Embassy, Speech by U.S. Ambassador Peter Henry Barlerin On the occasion of the 16th Annual Meeting on Surveillance, Preparedness and Response to Meningitis (Oct. 23, 2019); U.S. Embassy, PRESS RELEASE: United States Welcomes Voluntary Return of Central African Refugees (Oct.24, 2019); U.S. Embassy, PRESS RELEASE: United States Congratulates Cameroon for Certification of Blood Bank (Oct. 30, 2019); U.S. Embassy, PRESS RELEASE: United States Condolences to Those Affected by Landslide in West Region (Oct. 31, 2019); U.S. Embassy, PRESS RELEASE: U.S. Commitment to Cameroon Remains Strong Despite Change in AGOA Status (Nov. 1, 2019).

 

Potential Breakthrough in Cameroon’s Civil War?

Since 2016 Cameroon, a country of 15.7 million people on the west coast of Africa, has been experiencing violence, and a de facto civil war, between the central government controlled by its dominant Francophone (French-speaking) citizens and its minority Anglophones (English-speaking).[1]

On September 10, 2019, there was a potential breakthrough in that conflict with a lengthy and rare public speech by the country’s President Paul Biya. That speech and some of the subsequent developments will be reviewed in this post while a subsequent post will review the U.S. reactions to recent events, including this speech and National Dialogue.

 President Biya’s Speech[2]

Recognition of Initial Causes of Conflict. The “crisis was triggered by corporate demands made by lawyers and teachers calling for the translation of the OHADA Uniform Acts into English and the preservation of the specificity of the Anglo-Saxon judicial and educational systems in the two regions.”

Government’s Response to Initial Causes of Conflict. The Government made the following responses to these concerns: (a) “the translation into English of the OHADA instruments which are now available in the two official languages;” (b) “the creation of a Common Law Section at the Supreme Court to handle appeals filed against the decisions of lower courts in Common Law matters;” (c) “the creation of a Common Law Section at the National  School of Administration and Magistracy” and “a Common Law Section at the National  School of Administration and Magistracy” for “the training of judicial and legal officers;” (d) the creation of “a programme for the recruitment of English-speaking pupil judicial and legal officers and court registrars;” (e) “the launching of the special recruitment of bilingual teachers in secondary schools;” (f) “at the level of the judiciary, the stay of proceedings against some persons arrested in connection with the demands; (g) “the setting up of a national Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and  Multi-culturalism to, among other things, carry out an in-depth review of all the sources of frustration suffered by our compatriots in the North-West and South-West Regions; (h) [fast-tracking] “the decentralization process, with the creation of a new ministry devoted thereto;” and (i)”the upcoming regional elections will complete the process by enabling our compatriots nationwide to fully participate in the management of their local affairs.”

Emergence of Secessionist Movement and Violence. Ignoring the above Government’s responses to the initial causes of the conflict, “radical movements . . . have hatched a secessionist plan to partition our country” . . . [and] have formed and financed groups that have caused untold harm, to the population of the North-West and South-West Regions [the Anglophone  regions]. Their “atrocities” include “ maiming, beheading, assassination of elements of the Defence and Security Forces, administrative authorities and defenceless civilians, destruction of public infrastructure and buildings, and burning of schools, hospitals, etc.” These atrocities “have forced thousands of our compatriots to seek refuge in other regions of the country and, for some, in neighboring countries where they have been reduced to living under precarious conditions.”

Government’s Response to Secessionist Movement and Violence. The Government responses to these radical actions included: (a) “ the Defence and Security Forces have taken energetic measures, often at the risk of their lives, to perform their duty of protecting citizens and their property; “ (b) the President “ordered the discontinuance of judicial proceedings pending before military tribunals against 289 persons arrested for offences committed during this crisis; “ (c) the Government called on armed secessionists “to lay down their arms and benefit from the process of reintegration into society. A National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Committee was thus set up [along with] Regional Disarmament Centres;” (d) the Government is working to meet “the challenges we are facing in order to improve the welfare of our population, especially in terms of infrastructure, water and electricity supply, healthcare delivery and youth employment;” (e) this January the President appointed a new Prime Minister, who is from the South-West Region,” which is consistent with other major government posts since April 1992; (f) the President has continued “to wage a ruthless war against corruption and the embezzlement of public funds, and to promote good governance.”

New National Dialogue. Recognizing “the strong desire of the people of the North-West and South-West Regions to return to a normal life, to be able once again to safely carry out their economic and social activities, to witness the return of refugees and displaced persons, and to see their children return to school,” the President at the end of September will convene “ a major national dialogue that will, in line with our Constitution, enable us to seek ways and means of meeting the high aspirations of the people of the North-West and South-West Regions, but also of all the other components of our Nation. The dialogue in question will mainly concern the situation in the North-West and South-West Regions, [but since] it will focus on issues of national interest such as national unity, national integration and living together, it is obvious that it will not concern only the population of these two regions.” The dialogue also will “focus on issues that can address the concerns of the population of the North-West and South-West Regions, as well as those of the other regions of our country such as bilingualism, cultural diversity and social cohesion, the reconstruction and development of conflict-affected areas, the return of refugees and displaced persons, the education and judicial system, decentralization and local development, the demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, the role of the diaspora in the country’s development, etc.”

Rejection of Pardon or Amnesty for Certain Secessionists. Recent court decisions against certain secessionists are not obstacles to this new dialogue.[3] “Respect for the rule of law and the fight against impunity are pillars in the consolidation of a State ruled by law to which we all aspire. Violating the rule of law and granting impunity to some citizens is paving the way for anarchy. It is therefore crucial, at this stage, to dispel rumours that one can quietly loot, rape, burn, kidnap, maim, murder, in the hope that a possible dialogue will erase all these crimes and provide impunity to their perpetrators.” However, “ in the context of a dialogue, a peace process or national reconciliation, the possibility of pardon may be considered, under certain conditions.”

President’s Peace Offer. Under the presidential power of pardon under the Constitution, the President offers the following: “Those who voluntarily lay down their arms and place themselves at the disposal of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Centres have nothing to fear. Their fellow armed group members who are already there can testify to this. Conversely, those who persist in committing criminal acts and violating the laws of the Republic will have to contend with our Defence and Security Forces and will face the full force of those same laws.”

“The same applies to promoters of hate and violence who, comfortably settled in foreign countries with impunity, continue to incite murder and destruction. Let them know that sooner or later they will have to face justice.” The President also appeals “to the countries sheltering these extremists to take action against these criminals if they really care about the situation of the people of the North-West and South-West Regions.”

Cameroonian Reactions[4]

The day after this speech, the country’s Prime Minister Joseph Dion began discussions with political party leaders, civil society activists, opinion leaders, traditional rules, lawmakers and clergy.

Julius Sisku Ayuk Tabe, the leader of a separatist movement who the priormonth had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, called the speech a “non-event” and “non-starter.” He said Biya’s call for a dialogue was “an awkward and grudging attempt timed to avoid UN sanctions,” considering that the UN will be deliberating on the anglophone crisis this month.

The opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF), called for a “general amnesty” for detainees linked to the separatist crisis and a “ceasefire” before participating in the “grand national dialogue.” That gathering “cannot effectively prosper without a calm environment: the declaration of a ceasefire and the guarantee of a general amnesty for all those involved at any level in the English-speaking crisis,”

The president of the United Socialists Democratic Party, Prince Ekosso,  said among the recommendations they are strongly making for the dialogue to be successful are the unconditional release of all people allegedly illegally held in prisons and detention centers and an end to the separatist war in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon.

Cameroonian civil society groups and opposition political parties have called for the unconditional release of Anglophone separatist leaders and other political prisoners before the beginning of the dialogue.

Justin Roger Ndah, assistant secretary-general of the opposition party MRC, said they are urging discussions on the form of the state.

Nkongho Agbor Balla, an Anglophone activist, told Al Jazeera that “the call for an all-inclusive dialogue is very appreciate,”, saying the announcement “should signal the end of arrests of Anglophones for their political ideas. Whilst my expectations were not fully met in the speech, we should give peace a chance by supporting the dialogue process. I urge those who will be attending the national dialogue to call for the release of all those detained in connection with the crisis, the need for constitutional amendment and also to ensure that the form of the state is equally discussed at the dialogue table.”

A BBC report said Biya’s “offer of peace has been rejected by the separatists who say they are horrified at the “callous indifference” the president and his regime have shown towards the crisis. Analysts are now worried that rejecting dialogue could mean more bloodshed.”

A senior official of Biya’s political party, Siddi Haman, said all Cameroonians should see Biya’s true will to bring peace to the country and his desire for maintaining Cameroon as a peaceful and indivisible state with everyone living in harmony.

Foreign Reactions[5]

The United Nations and the African Union welcomed and endorsed President Biya’s call for a national dialogue in Cameroon.

The U.N. Secretary-General through his spokesman, “welcomes the announcement made today by President Paul Biya on the launch of a national dialogue process in Cameroon. He encourages the Government of Cameroon to ensure that the process is inclusive and addresses the challenges facing the country. He calls on all Cameroonian stakeholders, including the Diaspora, to participate in this effort. The Secretary-General reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to support the dialogue process.”

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, welcomed “the commitment of the President of the Republic of Cameroon . . . to organize a national dialogue to resolve the crisis in the English-speaking regions of the country.” The Chairperson also “encourages all Cameroonian stakeholders, including the diaspora and armed groups, to take part in the national dialogue and to seize the opportunity to discuss the root causes of this crisis.”

In addition, the Chairperson “reiterates the readiness of the African Union Commission to support Cameroon in the search for a consensual and lasting solution to preserve Cameroon’s unity and integrity.”

U.S. Reactions

Surprisingly for this blogger, there was no public reaction by the U.S. State Department to the Biya speech and the Cameroonian National Dialogue. But the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon made direct and indirect public comments on these matters, which will be discussed in a subsequent post.

Conclusion

Although this blogger is not Cameroonian, he has a number of Cameroonian friends, has maintained contact with these friends, has visited the country once with a group from his church (Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church) and has followed the news from that country. The Cameroon president’s call for a national dialogue prompts the following questions:

  1. Was his account of what the Government has done in response to the initial conflict truthful?  If not, in what respect was it not truthful?
  2. Was his account of what the Government has done in response to the separatists movement and violence truthful? If not, in what respect was it not truthful?
  3. What is your reaction to the proposed national dialogue?
  4. What are your opinions to the above reports about Cameroonian reactions to the Biya speech and call for national dialogue? Are there other Cameroonians who should be mentioned?
  5. Should Cameroon invite international observers or monitors to attend the dialogue?
  6. What do you as a member of the Cameroonian diaspora want to say to the Government.

I encourage Cameroonian readers of this blog post to add their comments and answers to these questions.

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

[2] Republic of Cameroon, The Head of State’s Message to the Nation-10 sept. 2019; Assoc. Press, Cameroon’s President Calls for National Dialogue, Surrender, N.Y. Times (Sept. 10, 2019); Reuters, Cameroon Leader Says Government Will Organize Talks to Solve Separatist Crisis, N.Y. Times (Sept. 10, 2019).

[3] In August 2019 the Yaounde military tribunal gave life sentences to Julius Ayuk Tabe, the leader of the separatists movement,and nine others after having been found guilty of secession, terrorism and hostility against the state. In addition, opposition leader Maurice Kanto, who came in second in last year’s presidential election, is on trial with dozens of others in a military tribunal on insurrection charges. (Voice of America)

[4] Kindzeka, Calls for Release of Separatists, Political Prisoners Intensify in Cameroon, Voice of America (Sept. 15, 2019); Cameroon opposition demands amnesty for separatists, africanews (Sept. 13, 2019); Cameroon to hold ‘national dialogue’ on separatist crisis, Al Jazeera (Sept. 11,2019); Ngala, Analysis: Biya’s call for dialogue in Cameroon, BBC News (Sept. 11, 2019).

[5] U.N. Secretary-General, Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on announcement of a national dialogue in Cameroon (Sept. 10, 2019); Republic of Cameroon, Major National Dialogue: Reaction of Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (Sept. 11, 2019).

 

 

 

U.N. Human Rights Council Considers Cameroon’s Human Rights Issues 

In  early 2019, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on behalf of the U.N. Human Rights Council visited Cameroon to assess its human rights record in the Francophone-Anglophone crisis. Afterwards the Council published a press release about the visit.[1] Here is what it said.

The High Commissioner “welcomed the Government’s openness to work with the UN Human Rights Office, and the rest of the UN, to seek effective solutions to the major human rights and humanitarian crises caused by the serious unrest and violence taking place in the west and north of the country.”

She said, ““I believe there is a clear – if possibly short – window of opportunity to arrest the crises that have led to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, as well as the killings and brutal human rights violations and abuses that have affected the northern and western areas of the country,” Bachelet said. “But it will not be easy to turn these situations around. It will take significant actions on the part of the Government, and substantial and sustained support from the international community – including us in the UN.”

She added, ““The challenges are immense, and the situation involving some ten or more separatist movements in the North-West and South-West regions risks spiraling completely out of control, if serious measures are not taken to reduce tensions and restore trust. There is also a general understanding that the root causes and underlying grievances must also be tackled if long-term stability is to return to a country that had, until just a few years ago, been one of the most settled and peaceful in the region.”

These problems coincide with “other major challenges, including cross-border incursions by armed groups and criminal organizations along its eastern border with the Central African Republic. At the same time, in the north of the country, the armed forces are struggling to cope with the depredations and suicide attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram and, in the far north around Lake Chad, the population is being terrorized and  attacked by another extremist organization, the so-called Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA). In addition, Cameroon is hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Central African Republic and Nigeria.”

“In several regions, civilians and soldiers have been killed and mutilated, and entire villages have been burned.  Children have been abducted and forced to join the armed groups, and have even been utilized as unwitting suicide bombers by Boko Haram. In the two western regions, schools, hospitals and other key infrastructure has been targeted and destroyed by the various separatist groups; and government employees, including teachers who have dared to continue teaching, have been targeted and killed or abducted.”

“The security forces have also been accused of committing serious violations, including extra-judicial killings and torture, against civilians and captured fighters in both the north and the west.”

Bachelet said she believed that two new Cameroonian bodies—the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism and the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Committee—“can potentially make important contributions over time to better understand and deal with the crisis in the two western regions, and to encourage increasing numbers of fighters to lay down their arms and reintegrate into society in both the north and the west. Nevertheless, one should not underestimate the daunting challenges both bodies are facing, and I offered to share advice and important lessons we have learned from similar efforts in other parts of the world.”

She “also offered to provide advice and assistance to the Government – similar to that being provided to the G5 forces in the Sahel – to help ensure that military operations are in compliance with international human rights standards and violations are prevented, when military forces are engaged in counter-terrorism operations and combat against armed groups.”

Although government troops faced great challenges, “it is essential that members of the security forces who commit serious violations are held accountable.” Indeed, “every violation committed by Government forces is not only unlawful, but also counter-productive as it plays into the hands of the extremist groups, by feeding local resentment and aiding recruitment. The armed forces must win and keep the trust of local populations, and to do that they must keep scrupulously within the framework of international law and standards. If they fail to do that, they will not defeat an enemy that thrives on civilian mistrust of the authorities. In the meantime, the civilians trapped between these two powerful, if asymmetric, opposing forces, are increasingly vulnerable to lethal abuses and violations by both sides.”

The High Commissioner urged the government “to be fully transparent about such cases. It is essential that crimes are punished, and are seen to be punished. If there is impunity, then there is an assumption of immunity – and this will lead to more crimes being committed, and a further decline in trust in the armed forces, which will only compound the challenges they face. The maintenance of morale is important, but deterring unlawful actions by members of the security forces is imperative. This particular issue is damaging Cameroon’s international standing, and undermining international support for efforts to combat the armed groups operating on its territory.”

Another condemnation was leveled by the High Commissioner at “the targeting of civilians by all armed groups, as well as the torching of schools and medical facilities by the separatist groups in the North-West and South-West regions. “There is no logic to their behavior,” she said. “If they are arguing for more autonomy, why seek to deprive their own children of education, why kill the teachers, and destroy the health facilities? This is not idealistic, it is nihilistic. The only way to solve the issues in the two western regions is through dialogue, including in-depth analysis of the root causes of the unrest, and I urge all sides including the Government to make a strenuous effort to end the fighting and begin peace talks.”

Bachelet “also raised the issue of lack of access for both international and national human rights workers – including the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms – and the humanitarian agencies, to the affected regions. The lack of access is feeding international and local mistrust: including mistrust of the casualty figures; suspicions and competing narratives about who is responsible for which violations and abuses; and reluctance to give full support to the Government’s efforts to deal with these crises, for fear that the lack of access and lack of clarity is masking something untoward. Limited access is also hampering the efforts of the humanitarian agencies to reach victims, and this in turn may fuel further population movements. So, as much access as possible – within the limits of what is safe – would be an important positive step forward in terms of building confidence, and I appreciate the attention the Government has given to this particular request.”

Yet another concern was “the shrinking of civic space in Cameroon, noting that some of the civil society organizations, religious leaders, opposition politicians and diplomats she met with described how certain rights and freedoms, especially those of peaceful association and assembly, had been eroded in recent months. Human rights defenders described how they have been facing harassment by the police, and many of the High Commissioner’s interlocutors raised the issue of the arrest of leading opposition politician Maurice Kamto and more than 150 of his supporters.”

A specific criticism was raised about the “practice of charging civilians before military courts.”

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[1] UN Office of High Commissioner, Bachelet welcomes Cameroon’s willingness to cooperate to tackle human rights crises (May 6, 2019). Also relevant are previous posts about Cameroon.

 

Human Rights Commentaries by Mary Ann Glendon, Chair of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

A prior post reviewed the limited public record (to date) of the first meeting on October 23 of the Commission on Unalienable Rights.

To gain a better understanding of what to expect from the Commission, this blog will examine two recent commentaries on human rights by, and an interview of, the Commission’s Chair, Mary Ann Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School, the author of a major book about the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) [1] and a prominent Roman Catholic who was U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican in the George W. Bush Administration. The Conclusion will evaluate her comments and those made by others at the first meeting.

Reclaim Human Rights (August 2016) [2]

Glendon began this article by acknowledging that she had been a participant in the Ramsey Colloquium’s 1998 affirmation of the UDHR as “the most available discourse for cross-cultural deliberation about the dignity of the human person” and as making “possible a truly universal dialogue about our common human future.” [3] She also affirmed she was “a longtime supporter of the cautious use of rights language, and a frequent critic of its misuses.”

Nevertheless, Glendon said that a 2016 criticism of human rights by R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things, [4] caused her to “ponder whether the noble post-World War II universal human rights idea has finally been so manipulated and politicized as to justify its abandonment by men and women of good will.”

According to Glendon, by “1998, governments and human-rights organizations alike were ignoring the fact that the UDHR was constructed as an integrated document whose core fundamental rights were meant to be ‘interdependent and indivisible.’ [However, by 1998, the] sense of the interdependence among rights and the connections between rights and responsibilities was fading.” Moreover, “a host of special-interest groups [were inspired] to capture the moral force and prestige of the human-rights project for their own purposes. . . .[The] core of basic human rights that might be said to be universal was being undermined by ‘multiplying the number of interests, goods, and desires that are elevated to the status of rights.”

As a result, by 2016, she argues, “the post-World War II dream of universal human rights risks dissolving into scattered rights of personal autonomy.”

Reno’s criticism of human rights, Glendon continues, emphasizes “the way that human rights as an ideology detracts from the difficult and demanding work of politics.” This is especially true in the U.S., she says, as “judicially-created rights have displaced political judgements that could and should have been left to the ordinary processes of bargaining, education, persuasion, and voting.” This has damaged “the American democratic experiment” by making it more difficult to correct an unwise judicial decision, intensifying “the politicization of the judicial selection process,” depriving “the country of the benefits of experimentation with different solutions to difficult problems” and accelerating “the flight from politics.”

Glendon concludes by urging “church leaders and people of good will to make every effort to connect the human-rights project to an affirmation of the essential interplay between individual rights and democratic values. We should insist on the connection between rights and responsibilities. And we should foster an appreciation of the ultimate dependence of rights upon the creation of rights-respecting cultures.”

 “Renewing Human Rights” (February 2019) [5]

“When Eleanor Roosevelt and a small group of people gathered at the behest of the U.N. in early 1947 to draft the world’s first ‘international bill of rights’” (the subsequent UDHR), the “idea that some rights could be universal—applicable across all the world’s different societies—was controversial.”

“Yet in the decades that followed, the UDHR . . . successfully challenged the view that sovereignty provided an iron shield behind which states could mistreat their people without outside scrutiny.”

“But now . . . the international human rights idea is in crisis, losing support both at home and abroad. Good intentions, honest mistakes, power politics, and plain old opportunism have all played a role in a growing skepticism, and even a backlash.”

As Glendon sees it, “there were three stages” to this change: [1] a pick-and-choose attitude toward rights initiated by the two superpowers in the Cold War era [U.S. and U.S.S.R.]; [2] an over-extension of the concept once the human rights idea showed its moral force; and [3] a forgetfulness of the hard-won wisdom of the men and women who had lived through two world wars.”

“The end of the Cold War increased the influence of human rights. American predominance, Western ideological ascendancy, a series of atrocities and conflicts, and a growing role for the United Nations and other international actors spurred the rapid growth of human rights activism in the 1990s. By the 2000s, there were many human rights organizations, including specialists, activists, agencies for monitoring and enforcement, and academic journals.”

These changes brought about “an interventionist approach, backed by Western—especially American—power. . . .  The establishment of state-like institutions such as the International Criminal Court (which the United States ultimately did not endorse), and doctrines such as the ‘Responsibility to Protect,’ reflected this shift. They increased the human rights field’s ability to frame the international agenda and set global standards. . . .  This encouraged an expansion in the number of basic rights.”

“Given that individual rights were gaining ascendancy, the role of social institutions and non-­individualistic values were deemphasized. A one-size-fits-all approach triumphed over the idea of a common standard that could be brought to life in a variety of legitimate ways. The indivisibility and inter­dependence of fundamental rights were ­forgotten.”

Some states now object to “uniform methods of interpreting and implementing” human rights treaties and to “supra­national institutions. They are remote from the people whose lives they affect. They lack public scrutiny and accountability, are susceptible to lobbying and political influence, and have no internal checks and balances.”

According to Glendon, the following “four major principles that the UDHR’s framers followed [in 1947-48] can reinvigorate the human rights idea in our own time:”

  • Modesty concerning universality. “The framers wisely confined themselves to a small set of principles so basic that no country or group would openly reject them. This was essential not only in order to gain broad political support within the U.N., but also to ensure that the Declaration would have deep and long-lasting support across vastly different cultures, belief systems, and political ideologies.”
  • Flexible universalism.” The UDHR framers “understood that there would always be different ways of applying human rights to different social and political contexts, and that each country’s circumstances would affect how it would fulfill its requirements.” For example, . . . [UDHR’s] Article 22 provides: ‘Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.’ (Emphasis added.) Another example is Article 14, which states, ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,’ but is silent on how that right should be protected.
  • Interdependence of basic rights.” The UDHR makes it clear “that everyone’s rights depend on respect for the rights of others, on the rule of law, and on a healthy civil society. . . . The framers of the [UDHR] did not expect uniform management of tensions or conflicts between rights. . . . [and instead] assumed that communities must balance the weight of claims of one right versus another before determining the best course of action.” Only a few rights do not allow such variation: “protections for freedom of religion and conscience” as well as “prohibitions of torture, enslavement, degrading punishment, . . .retroactive penal measures, and other grave violations of human dignity.”
  • “Subsidiarity.” Emphasis on “the primacy of the lowest level of implementation that can do the job, reserving national or international actors for situations where smaller entitles are incapable.” This principle, as stated in the UDHR’s Proclamation, also calls on “every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms.”

Glendon concludes by arguing for a new human rights goal: “the systematic elimination of a narrow set of evils for which a broad consensus exists across all societies. This would at least include “protections against genocide; slavery; torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; retroactive penal measures; deportation or forcible transfer of population; discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, nationality, or social origin; and protection for freedom of conscience and religion.”

Glendon Interview [6]

On August 3, 2019, Glendon was interviewed by Jack Goldsmith, another Harvard Law School professor of international law. Here are her comments that were not already expressed in the above articles.

She said there was confusion and crisis in human rights with roughly half of the world’s population without any rights and exasperated by disappointing performance of international human rights institutions.

Socrates said that definition of terms was the beginning of wisdom, and this is especially important since human rights are now important parts of U.S. foreign policy.

The concept of “unalienable rights,” which the printer of the original Declaration of Independence substituted for Thomas Jefferson’s draft’s use of “inalienable,” has evolved with the U.S. Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) and the words of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.

While the U.S. Declaration of Independence talked about “laws of nature” or pre-political rights, the UDHR is grounded in the world’s religious and philosophical traditions.

Glendon emphasized the civil and political rights in the UDHR were interdependent with economic and social rights and pointed to the New Deal and the preambles of many U.S. statutes on economic and social issues as expressing this interdependence. This also is stated in Article 22 of the UDHR: ‘Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.’” (Emphasis added.) This provision rejected the Soviet Union’s position that the state was solely responsible for such rights with Eleanor Roosevelt saying during the deliberations over the UDHR that no one had figured out how to do that without loss of freedom.

Another emphasis of Glendon was on the UDHR Proclamation’s words: ‘every individual and every organ of society, Keeping the [UDHR] constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of [U.N.] Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.” Or as Judge Learned Hand said, ‘The spirit of liberty will die if not in the hearts of the people.’

Reactions

 Glendon’s primary focus in these two articles and interview is the UDHR, which is mentioned as one of two  guiding authorities for the Commission on Unalienable Rights, but Glendon has less to say about the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which is the other guiding authority for this Commission.

We all should seek to follow her emphasizing the UDHR’s interdependency of civil and political rights with economic and social rights and the importance of every individual and every organ of society striving by teaching and education to promote respect for human rights and freedoms.

The UDHR indeed is an important international human rights instrument. But it is a declaration adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948. It does not by itself establish legal obligations on any nation state or other person.

In any event, Glendon says nothing about another provision of the UDHR’s Proclamation: “every individual and every organ of society , keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive . . . by progressive measures, national and international, to secure [these rights and freedoms] universal and effective recognition and observance.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, the UDHR itself contemplated that there should be additional measures, including national legislation and international treaties, to secure the rights and freedoms articulated in the UDHR and, by implication, that these other measures will include “rights” language. Moreover, under the principle of “flexible universalism,” a developed and wealthy country like the U.S. could well find ways to secure the rights mentioned in the UDHR that are more complex than those in other countries.

A similar principle for the Commission exists in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  It says, as the Commission emphasizes, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But the very next sentence of the U.S. Declaration says, but the Glendon and the Commission ignore, “That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, the U.S. Declaration contemplates that the not yet established U.S. government subsequently will enact statutes that protect the unalienable rights, only three of which are specifically mentioned in the Declaration.[7] These are not “ad hoc” rights as Secretary Pompeo likes to say.

As a result, after the 1948 adoption of the UDHR, various U.N. organizations have drafted and adopted many international human rights treaties,[8] and the U.S. federal and state governments have adopted many human rights statutes and regulations.

This obvious point is surprisingly overlooked by Glendon when she lauds UDHR’s Article 14 on the right to asylum as an example of flexible universalism because it does not say how that right should be protected. But the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees that entered into force on April 22, 1954, defines”refugee” and specifies many conditions for that protection while limiting reservations under Article 42. Presumably she is not arguing that this treaty was a mistake.

Indeed, we should all celebrate, not complain as Secretary Pompeo likes to do, that there has been such proliferation or in Glendon’s words, “too much contemporary emphasis on ‘rights’ language. These arguments by Pompeo and Glendon can be seen as underhanded ways to cut back or eliminate rights that they do not like, which I assume would include abortion and LGBQ rights. Such rights constantly are criticized by her church (Roman Catholic) and by the Commission’s creator, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and others in the State Department.[9]

Criticism of Glendon’s apparent adherence to traditional Roman Catholic teachings on some of these issues comes from her successor as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican in the Obama Administration, Miguel Diaz, along with 128 Catholic activists and leaders, in a letter opposing the Commission. [10] They said, “Our faith and our commitment to the principles of democracy require us to view every person on earth as a full human being. We staunchly support the fundamental human rights of all people and proudly carry on the long tradition in our country of advocating for expanding human rights around the world. Our concern is that this Commission will undermine these goals by promoting a vision of humanity that is conditional, limiting, and based on a very narrow religious perspective that is inconsistent with the beliefs and practices of billions in this country and around the world. Our faith and our commitment to the principles of democracy require us to view every person on earth as a full human being. We staunchly support the fundamental human rights of all people and proudly carry on the long tradition in our country of advocating for expanding human rights around the world,” they write. “Our concern is that this Commission will undermine these goals by promoting a vision of humanity that is conditional, limiting, and based on a very narrow religious perspective that is inconsistent with the beliefs and practices of billions in this country and around the world. Of most urgent concern is that the composition of the Commission indicates that it will lead our State Department to adopt policies that will harm people who are already vulnerable, especially poor women, children, LGBTI people, immigrants, refugees, and those in need of reproductive health services. This is being done “in the name of a very partial version of Christianity that is being promoted by the current Administration.” “All human beings,” however, “have been created in God’s image and all have been endowed by their Creator with the fundamental right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. No person speaking in the name of government or in the name of God can do so to undermine or to deny this right.”

Nor does Glendon discuss how to resolve conflicts among rights. For example, the U.S. Declaration’s mention of “life” as one of the “unalienable rights” is taken by some, and probably Glendon, as a basis for arguing there should be no right to an abortion. But an abortion may be necessary to protect an expectant woman’s right to “life” or her “pursuit of happiness.”  How are those conflicts resolved? That is why we have federal and state and international courts and agencies to resolve these conflicts or disputes.

The previously cited “four major principles” of the UDHR are worthy of remembering and guiding future human rights, internationally and domestically.

Glendon, however, fails to acknowledge the continued use of the “flexible universalism” principle in human rights treaties that allow for their ratification by nation states with reservations for at least some of the treaty’s provisions. And, of course, a state may chose not to ratify a treaty and thereby not be bound by any of its provisions. [11] Moreover, there are mechanisms for other states and international agencies to address these reservations and non-ratifications. For example, in the U.H. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, the Council and other states may, and do, make recommendations for states to withdraw reservations or ratify certain treaties. The same was done by the Council’s predecessor, the U.N. Human Rights Committee.[12]

The words of Professor Michael McConnell from the Commission’s first meeting should also be remembered in this evaluation of its ongoing work. He warned that the term “‘unalienable rights,’ which comes to us from our country’s protestant reform traditions, has never had a common or precise definition. The phrase identifies a philosophical concept, rather than a concrete set of rights.  And while the concept often prioritizes freedom of religion, McConnell cautioned that our founders were ultimately more concerned with freedom of conscience, which includes but is not limited to a narrow understanding of religious freedom.”

“McConnell also recognized the implicit failures of this philosophical approach.  While the term ‘unalienable rights’ makes for inspirational prose, the philosophical concept behind it embraced our country’s original sin of slavery and denied women full standing in society. Concepts of equal protection could not, and did not, exist at this time, under this philosophical tradition.”

Andrea Schmitt of the Center for American Progress who attended  the Commission’s first meeting also had words of wisdom for the Commission. She said, “It is simply wrong-headed and ultimately self-defeating to create an artificial human rights hierarchy — one that strips away the universality of human rights and puts a limited number of political and religious rights above all others.  Indeed, this enterprise stands to harm religious freedom itself, as it gives philosophical justification to theocratic governments and religious majority populations who are, by far, the leading persecutors of religious minorities around the world.”

We all should thank Professor Glendon for her expertise and willingness to serve as Chair of the Commission. Those of us interested in international human rights need to carefully follow the Commission’s deliberations and eventual reports and express our agreements and disagreements with respect and reasoned arguments.

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[1] Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Random House 2001); The Importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (July 11, 2019).

[2] Glendon, Reclaim Human Rights, First Things (Aug. 2016).

[3] The Ramsey Colloquium apparently published reflections about early Christianity’s treatment of homosexuality. (Graeser, The Ramsey Colloquium and Other First Things Resources, Mars Hill Audio (June 29, 2001).

[4] Reno, Against Human Rights, First Things (May 2016). Reno is a former professor of theology and ethics at Creighton University, a Jesuit institution until 2010 when he became the editor of First Things. In 2004 at age 45 he left the Episcopal Church to join the Roman Catholic Church and  describes himself as a theological and political conservative. First Things, which describes itself as“America’s most influential journal of religion and public life,” is published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and educational 501(c)(3) organization. The Institute was founded in 1989 by Richard John Neuhaus and his colleagues to confront the ideology of secularism, which insists that the public square must be ‘naked,’ and that faith has no place in shaping the public conversation or in shaping public policy.” The Institute’s mission is to articulate a governing consensus that supports: a religiously pluralistic society that defends human dignity from conception to natural death; a democratic, constitutionally ordered form of government supported by a religiously and morally serious culture; a vision of freedom that encourages a culture of personal and communal responsibility; and loyalty to the Western tradition that provides a basis for responsible global citizenship.”

[5]  Glendon & Kaplan, Renewing Human Rights, First Things (Feb. 2019) The co-author, Seth D. Kaplan, is a professorial lecturer at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University. He is a consultant to organizations such as the World Bank, USAID, State Department, United Nations and African Development Bank.

[6] Howell, The Lawfare Podcast: Mary Ann Glendon on Unalienable Rights, Lawfare (Aug. 3, 2019).

[7] See The U.S. Declaration of Independence’s Relationship to the U.S. Constitution and Statutes, dwkcommentaries.com (July 5, 2019).

[8] As of 2009, there were at least the following significant multilateral human rights treaties: (1) U.N. Charter; (2) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (3) First Optional Covenant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (4) Covenant on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; (5) Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; (6) Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees; (7) International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; (8) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; (9) Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; (10) Convention on the Rights of the Child; (11) Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the elimination of the death penalty; (12) International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; (13) Statute of the International Court; and (14) International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. (Weissbrodt, Ni Aoláin, Fitzpatrick & Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process at 33-35 (Lexis/Nexis 4th edition 2009).)

[9] See, e.g.,  U.S. Opposition to “Abortion” and “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights” at U.N. High-Level Meeting, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 25, 2019).

[10] White, Former U.S. envoy to Vatican opposes new commission headed by predecessor, Crux (Jul. 23, 2019).

[11] Under international law, “A State may, when signing, ratifying, accepting, approving, or acceding to a treaty, formulate a reservation unless (a) the reservation is prohibited by a treaty; (b) the treaty provides that only specified reservations, which do not include the reservation  in question, may be made; or (c) in cases not falling under sub-paragraphs (a) or (b), the reservation is incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty.” (Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, arts. 19 (1980); id. Arts. 2(1) (d),20, 21, 22 )  See also,e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Multilateral Treaties Signed, But Not Ratified, by the U.S., dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 12, 2013); Multilateral Human Rights Treaties That Have Not Been Signed and Ratified by the U.S., dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 16, 2013).

[12] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.H. Human Rights Committee’s Review of U.S. Human Rights (April 19, 2014); U.N. Human Rights Committee’s Hearings About U.S. Human Rights (April 21, 2014); U.N. Human Rights Committee‘s Concluding Observations on U.S. Human Rights (April 24, 2014); Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: Background (June 12, 2018); Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: The Pre-Hearing Papers (June 12, 2018); Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: The UPR Hearing (June 16, 2018); U.N. Human Rights Council’s Final Consideration of Cameroon’s Universal Periodic Review (Sept. 20, 2018).

 

 

 

U.S. Increases Warning on Travel to Cameroon

On March 27, the U.S. State Department warned U.S. nationals not to travel to the following regions of Cameroon:

  • North, Far North, Northwest and Southwest Regions, and Parts of East and Adamawa Regions due to crime.
  • Far North Region due to terrorism.
  • Northwest and Southwest Regions due to armed conflict. [1]

For the North, Far North, Northwest and Southwest Regions, and Parts of East and Adamawa Regions, the Advisory states: “In the Adamawa Region north of the capital, Ngaoundere, and East Regions, there is a heightened criminal threat within 20 kilometers of the border with the Central African Republic.. . . Violent crime, including kidnapping by terrorists and/or kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, assault, and carjacking are serious concerns in Cameroon, especially in all these regions.”

For the “Far North Region, the Advisory states, “terrorists may attack with no warning, targeting local facilities and places frequented by Westerners.”

For the Northwest and Southwest Regions (the Anglophone regions), the Advisory states, “a separatist movement has led to increased levels of violence. Armed clashes between separatists and government forces, and other acts of violence, including kidnapping for ransom and arson, have occurred. Ongoing conflict has led to a breakdown in order, crimes of opportunity, and a significant decline in medical resources in large areas of both regions.”

Moreover, Cameroon as a whole is rated by the State Department as “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution due to crime.” It adds, “violent crime, such as armed robbery and carjacking, is common throughout Cameroon. Local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.”

If a U.S. citizen nevertheless decides to go to Cameroon, the State Department adds these specific suggestions:

  • “Do not display signs of wealth, such as expensive watches, handbags, or jewelry.
  • Monitor local media for breaking events and be prepared to adjust your plans.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program(STEP) to receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, help the Embassy contact you in an emergency, and help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Review the Crime and Safety Report for Cameroon.
  • U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.”

As noted in a previous post, on January 10, 2018, the State Department announced a new system of travel advisories for every country in the world with the same “four-level ranking system, starting with a Level 1, which is ‘Exercise normal precautions’ (e.g., Aruba);  Level 2, ‘Exercise increased caution’ (e.g., Jamaica); Level 3, ‘Reconsider travel’ (e.g., Cuba); and level 4, ‘Do not travel’” (e.g., Mexican states of Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas due to crime).” [2]

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Travel Advisory: Cameroon (March 27, 2019).

[2] State Department’s New Travel Advisory System for Cuba and Other Countries, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 11, 2018).

U.S. Announces Suspension of Military Aid to Cameroon

On February 6 the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. was suspending some military aid to the West African country of Cameroon. The U.S. had terminated a C-130 aircraft training program; halted deliveries of four defender boats, nine armored vehicles and an upgrade of a Cessna aircraft for Cameroon’s rapid intervention battalion; and withdrawn its offer for Cameroon to be part of the State Partnership Program. “For the time being, other programs will continue,” a State Department official said.

The reason for this action was concern over alleged human rights abuses by the country’s security forces. The State Department said, ‘We do not take these measures lightly, but we will not shirk from reducing assistance further if evolving conditions require it. We emphasize that it is in Cameroon’s interest to show greater transparency in investigating credible allegations of gross violations of human rights security forces, particularly in the Northwest, Southwest, and Far North Regions.”

The U.S. decision comes after videos circulated online last year showing Cameroonian security forces shooting and killing civilians, including women with small children strapped to their backs. The videos were documented by Amnesty International and global media outlets.

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, said in December that he feared the separatist crisis could get “much, much” worse and warned against a “brutal response” to extremism, saying it could lead to radicalization. Cameroon also faces a deadly threat from fighters with the Boko Haram extremist group based in neighboring Nigeria.

The United Nations has said some 430,000 people in Cameroon’s Southwest and Northwest regions have fled the fighting between security forces and English-speaking separatists who seek independence from the largely French-speaking country.

Reactions

There was no immediate comment from Cameroon’s government on the U.S. action. In recent months, however, it has ordered investigations into some of the alleged abuses and some people have been arrested.

The U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon, Rene Emmanuel Barlerin, on February 7 said,”We are not going to stop security cooperation with Cameroon. We have our differences, Cameroon is a sovereign country and the United States is a sovereign country,” after meeting with Cameroon’s government. The Ambassador added, “Relations between Cameroon and the United States are excellent and longstanding and we aim to continue that relationship.”

Also on February 7, at a U.S.  Senate Committee on Armed Services hearing, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said Cameroon has “been a good partner with us counterterrorism-wise, but you can’t neglect the fact that . . . there are alleged atrocities.” The General also testified that last October, before Cameroon’s widely contested presidential elections, he and the U.S. ambassador to the country had “a very direct conversation” with its President Paul Biya about investigations into alleged atrocities and “appropriate battlefield behavior. We were very emphatic with President Biya that the behavior of his troops, the lack of transparency could have a significant impact on our ability to work with them.” 

Commander Candice Tresch, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, noted, “the U.S. government does not provide assistance to security force units or individuals where we have credible information that the unit committed a gross violation of human rights.We have informed the Cameroonian government that lack of progress and clarity about actions undertaken by the government in response to credible information of gross violations of human rights could result in a broader suspension of U.S. assistance.”

France, which administered what has become the Francophone region of Cameroon under a mandate from the League of Nations after World War I until the early 1950’s, said it would not follow the U.S. suspension of military aid to the country’s government. A French Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said, ”France is bound by a defense partnership agreement that it conducts according to the international standards. In accordance with international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict, this cooperation is also intended to help Cameroon’s defense and security forces combat terrorism, especially against Boko Haram in the north of the country, while protecting the people. This cooperation continues.”

This French position may be influenced by its significant business interests in its former colony and by its reliance on Cameroon to fight against Islamist militants. France, therefore, has been careful not to overly criticize the government’s handling of the crisis. It has urged the Cameroonian government to engage in dialogue to stop an escalation in violence.

Amnesty International (AI) supported the U.S. decision and urged the U.S. to suspend all security assistance “until the Cameroonian government can show it has not been utilized to commit serious violations of international law and persons responsible have been held accountable.” AI also AI also called on the Trump administration to press other donors to review their assistance to Cameroon and insist on reforms.

Conclusion

As demonstrated by several earlier posts, this blogger fully supports the U.S. decision and urges other countries and international organizations, including the United Nations and the African Union, to take actions supporting increased pressures on the Cameroon government to stop its harassment, persecution and killings of Anglophones in its country.

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Assoc. Press, US Cuts Military aid to Cameroon Over Human Rights Concerns, N.Y. Times (Feb. 6, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Halts Some Cameroon Military Assistance Over Human Rights: Official, N.Y. Times (Feb. 6, 2019); Reuters, France Says to Continue Military Cooperation with Cameroon, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2019); Moki, US ambassador says Cameroon relations good despite aid cut, Wash. Post (Feb. 6, 2019);  O’Grady, U.S. cuts some military assistance to Cameroon, citing allegations of human rights violations, Wash. Post (Feb. 7, 2019).