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)

 

U.S. and Cuba Hold Another Meeting To Discuss Human Rights

On October 14, the U.S. and Cuba met in Havana for another discussion of human rights.[1]

According to Cuba’s Deputy Director General for Multilateral Affairs and International Law, Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, Cuba “defended the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights,” including social and cultural rights. Cuba also emphasized “the need to develop this exchange with full respect for the sovereign equality, independence and non-interference in the internal affairs of the parties.”

He also said Cuba had demonstrated its commitment to the protection of human rights by ratifying 44 of the 61 international human rights treaties instruments whereas the U.S. had ratified only 18 of these instruments.

He then delivered the following indictment of the U.S. record on human rights:

  • Most significantly, he alleged, the U.S. “economic, commercial and financial blockade . . . constitutes a flagrant, massive and systematic violation of their human rights.”
  • Moreover, “the U.S. has documented violations of the right to life in deaths by firearms and police brutality and abuse, particularly against African Americans.”
  • The U.S. also has a “pay gap between men and women, discrimination against migrants and other minorities, low level of unionization of workers and restrictions on unions, lack of access to social security, health services and education of many Americans, child labor and the growing and serious manifestations of racism and racial discrimination.”
  • The U.S. also committed “human rights violations elsewhere in the world, especially in the context of its so-called fight against terrorism: acts of torture committed in detention centers and secret prisons and extrajudicial executions, including civilian deaths resulting from the use of drones. He criticized in particular the permanence of the detention center in the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo Bay and the torture and serious violations committed there.”
  • “The [Cuban] delegation drew attention to double standards and selectivity that prevails in the consideration of human rights issues at the international level as well as the importance of the right to development, peace and others who are essential to the full exercise of human rights, respect for which is known complicit silence prevails in the mainstream media.”

The only U.S. State Department comment on this round of discussions found by this blogger was an announcement of the members of the U.S. delegation.[2]

The prior round of such discussions took place in Washington, D.C. in March 2015.

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[1] They held in Havana on Friday II round on human rights, CubaDebate (Oct. 11, 2016).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Assistant Secretary Malinowski and Acting Assistant Secretary Aponte Travel to Cuba (Oct. 13, 2016).

Results of U.S. and Cuba’s First Talks About Human Rights

On March 31st the U.S. and Cuba held their first talks about human rights. [1]

Afterwards the head of the Cuban delegation, Foreign Ministry official Pedro Luis Pedroso, said a decision on holding future talks would be reached during traditional diplomatic channels. Another Cuban delegate said the two sides held “a respectful, professional, civilized conversation.” Nevertheless, Anaysansi Rodriguez Camejo, Cuba’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, told Cuban state television that the session underlined “that there are differences” on issues of human rights.

More specifically, Senor Pedroso said Cuba had expressed concern about the U.S. guarantees and protection of human rights and drew attention to alleged persistent patterns of discrimination, racism and police brutality in the U.S. Cuba also raised the issues of alleged U.S. limitations on the exercise of labor rights and trade union freedoms and the alleged U.S. violations of human rights in the so-called fight against terrorism, including torture, extrajudicial executions and the use of drones, spying and offshore surveillance as well as the legal limbo of prisoners at the “illegal” Guantanamo Naval Base.

Pedroso also asserted that human rights are universal and indivisible and no one has more value than another. The realization of social and cultural rights is a fundamental basis for the effective exercise of civil and political rights.

According to the U.S. State Department, the discussion concerned “the methodology, topics, and structure of a future human rights dialogue. The atmosphere of the meeting was professional, and there was broad agreement on the way forward for a future substantive dialogue, the timing and location of which will be determined through diplomatic channels. Each side raised concerns about human rights issues, and both sides expressed willingness to discuss a wide range of topics in future substantive talks.”

“This preliminary meeting reflects our continued focus on human rights and democratic principles in Cuba,” a State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Human rights are a priority.”

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[1] This post is based upon the following sources: Assoc. Press, Cuba Delegate Reports ‘Civilized’ Talks on Rights with US, N.Y. Times (Mar. 31, 2015); Reuters, U.S., Cuba Hold First Formal Talks on Human Rights, N.Y. Times (Mar. 31, 2015); U.S. Dep’t of State, Cuba: Planning Meeting for Human Rights Dialogue (Mar. 31, 2015); Gomez, Cuba expressed concerns about the exercise of human rights in the US, Granma (Mar. 31, 2105); Gomez, Cuba and USA argued civilized conversation on human rights, despite differences, Granma (Mar. 31, 2015); Cuban Foreign Ministry, Press release about the first meeting between Cuba and the US human rights, Granma (Mar. 31, 2015).