Recent Violence in Cameroon Calls for International Action

The  west-central African country of Cameroon has been experiencing increasing violence. The underlying conflicts giving rise to this violence are protests by the minority Cameroonians whose primary European language is English (the Anglophones) against discrimination and persecution of various forms and violence carried out by the national government that is controlled by the majority Cameroonians whose primary European language is French (the Francophones). [1]

The time has long come for people around the world to demand that the Cameroonian government, with the assistance of other countries and international agencies, address the legitimate grievances of the Anglophones and with the cooperation of certain Anglophone separatists bring this discrimination, persecution and violence to an end.

Recent Events[2]

There have been at least three recent events that demand that the U.N., the U.S. and others expand their roles in Cameroon to end the discrimination against the country’s Anglophones and the resulting violence..

The first happened on October 30. As discussed in a prior post, on that date, a U.S. citizen was killed by gunfire in one of the English-speaking regions.

Second, on October 31, the separatists kidnapped 11 male students children from a Presbyterian secondary  school in the English-speaking North West Region of the country, but were released after the school had paid a ransom of the equivalent of $4,400.

Third, on  November 4, the separatists kidnapped 78 students and three staff members from that same Presbyterian school.  On November 7, however, the separatists released all of the children after warning them not to go back to school; the principal and one teacher were retained. A school official said no ransom had been paid, but the church was forced to close the school and send 700 students home because the state cannot assure their security

Reactions to These Recent Events[3]

On November 5, the national leader of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (the Moderator), Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba, issued a statement on the recent events at one of its schools.

  1. It called on “whosoever has committed this grave act of inhumanity on these innocent children and the staff members of this institution to immediately and unconditionally release them.” [This] is an open serious crime against humanity that no one in his/her right senses, no government and organization would hesitate to vehemently condemn. We roundly and strongly condemn that intention, planning and execution of this act of kidnap with every iota of our energy!”
  2. “We call on both the Cameroon military and the Ambazonia militia to respect the right of children to education. This is a universal right that all governments and anti-government forces everywhere on earth respect and protect.”
  3. “We call on the government of the Republic of Cameroon to take very urgent measures to resolve the Anglophone crisis that has led to the killing of thousands of innocent children of God, be they military or civilians, and the destruction of overwhelming private and public property, homes of people and entire villages.”
  4. “ We call on both the Cameroon government and the Amazonia fighters to agree on providing maximum security for the innocent young Cameroonians to exercise their right to study. And that these innocent children and their teachers should not be used as baits and sacrificial lambs.”
  5. “We call on the international community to take note of these grievous cycle of acts of inhumanity that have become a daily occurrence in Anglophone Cameroon that puts the lives of over seven million people in harm’s way. We also call on the international community not to be aloof, but look for ways to urgently assist in ending this crisis.”
  6. “That we will suspend the education of young Cameroonians provided by the Presbyterian Education Authority . . . wherever there are security challenges.”

The Moderator’s statement concluded with “a call on all God-fearing Cameroonians and beyond to continue to pray fervently that God should take away this dark cloud of evil and wickedness that has descended on Cameroon, particularly the Anglophone community.”

On November 8, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued a statement that called for various actions by U.S. Presbyterians, including  contacting “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to thank him for the State Department’s call for peaceful dialogue and unhindered access to humanitarian aid workers.”  In addition, ask “him to continue to monitor the situation and support a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

On November 6, the  U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the kidnapping of the children and school staff members. He called for “their immediate release and return. . . .  There can be no justification for these crimes against civilians, particularly minors.” He added that the U.N. “stands ready to assist” in the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Cameroon.

On November 6, the U.S. State Department Spokesperson, Heather Nauert, issued a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms, the November 5 kidnapping of [these]  students and staff and calling for their “immediate and safe return.” She also “expresses grave concern over the burgeoning Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions. We urge an immediate halt to the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and burning of houses by Cameroonian government forces and to attacks perpetrated by both Anglophone separatists against security forces and civilians. The systematic intimidation based on ethnic and religious affiliation, including in Yaoundé and Douala, must stop.” Finally she urged “all sides to end the violence and enter into broad-based reconciliatory dialogue without preconditions.”

This U.S. Citizen’s Response

As a U.S. citizen of  European-American heritage, I have been blessed to have many Cameroonian-American friends through our mutual membership at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church as well as many Cameroonian friends through our church’s partnerships with a Presbyterian Church in Kumba Town in the Southwest (Anglophone) Region of Cameroon and with an HIV-AIDS non-profit organization in Douala, the financial center of the country in its Francophone area. These connections have led to my participation in a Westminster mission trip to that country and to fellowship this past May with a Cameroonian delegation to our Minneapolis church.

I, therefore, appreciate the preceding comments by leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon and the U.S and by officials of the U.N. and the U.S.

But their words are not enough. There needs to be action with at least the threat of the use of military force by the U.N., the African Union and/or the U.S. to broker an enforceable agreement to stop the Cameroonian government discrimination, persecution and violence against their own citizens whose primary European language is English and to stop the violence perpetrated by those Anglophones whose patience has been exhausted.

A copy of this blog post will be sent to Cameroon President Paul Biya; U.S. President Donald Trump; U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; U.S. Ambassador to  Cameroon Peter Henry Barium; U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith; U.S. Representative Keith Ellison; U.S. Represntative-Elect Ilhan Omar; Rev. Denise Anderson and Rev. Jan Edmiston, Co- Moderators of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon; the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres; the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet Jeria; Paul Kagame, Chairperson of the African Union; and Emmanuel Macron, President of France.

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[1] Previous posts about Cameroon are listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com–Topical: CAMEROON.

[2] Assoc. Press, Separatists Kidnap 79 Pupils in Cameroon’s Restive Northwest, N.Y. Times (Nov. 5, 2018); Searcey, Cameroon Students Have Been Released, Officials Say, N.Y. Times (Nov. 7, 2018); Assoc. Press, 79 Kidnapped Cameroon Students Freed, Says Church Official, N.Y. Times (Nov.7, 2018); Reuters, Cameroon Child Kidnappers Warned Victims Not to Go To School, N.Y. Times (Nov. 8, 2018).

[3] Assoc. Press, UN Chief Urges Speedy Release of Kidnapped Cameroon Pupils, N.Y. Times (Nov. 6, 2018); U.S. State Dept, U.S. Concerned Over Violence Uptick in Cameroon (Nov. 6, 2018); Moderator, Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba, Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, Communique on Successive Abductions at Presbyterian Secondary School (PSS), Nkwen, Bamenda (Nov. 5, 2018); U.N., Secretary-General Condemns Kidnapping of Students, School Staff in Cameroon (Nov.6, 2018).

Cameroon Elected As  Member of U.N. Human Rights Council

As has been discussed in many posts, for the last several years the government of Cameroon has been engaged in armed conflict with the minority of Cameroonians whose principal European language is English (the Anglophones). In the course of that conflict, the government allegedly has committed many human rights violations.[1]

This record and the objections against these acts were voiced by many other governments during Cameroon’s recent Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is the body within the U.N. system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe. These Council members are elected by the majority of members of the U.N. General Assembly through direct and secret ballot. The General Assembly [purportedly] takes into account the candidate States’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard. (Emphasis added.)

Despite Cameroon’s dismal human rights record, on October 12, 2018, the U.N. General Assembly elected Cameroon to be a member of the Council for a three-year term beginning January 1, 2019.[2]

Amnesty International  Human Rights Watch and other rights groups objected to the election of Cameroon and certain other countries. “Elevating states with records of gross human rights violations and abuses is a tremendous setback,” said Amnesty International USA’s advocacy director, Daniel Balson. “It puts them on the world stage, and moreover, it empowers them to fundamentally undermine notions of human rights that are accepted internationally.[3]

In this context, Human Rights Watch raised “serious concerns about human rights in . . . Cameroon, . . . . [where] government security forces and armed separatists have committed grave abuses against residents of the country’s Anglophone region. The region has been rocked by protests and violent clashes rooted in longstanding political grievances of the Anglophone minority. While the government has taken some positive steps in recent months, including signing the Safe Schools Declaration, violence and abuses in the Anglophone region continue.”

The Council elections of Cameroon and four other African states (Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Somalia and Togo) are partially attributable to the Council’s allocation of 13 of the 47 seats to African states; and to three of the African members having terms ending on December 31, 2018 and being ineligible for re-election after having served two consecutive terms (Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Kenya). The other African members are Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.[4]

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[1] See Cameroonian President Biya Wins Re-Election by a Landslide, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 26, 2018); Continued Violence in Cameroon, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 4, 2018). See also posts listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CAMEROON.

[2] U.N., General Assembly Elects 18 Member States to Human rights Council, Allowing Vote by 3 Member States in Article 19 Exemption over Financial Dues (Oct. 12, 2018).

[3] Assoc. Press, US, Rights Groups Say UN Rights Council Vote Lets Abusers In, N.Y. Times (Oct. 12, 2018); Human Rights Watch, UN: Philippines, Eritrea Don’t Belong on Rights Council (Oct. 11, 2018).

[4] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Membership of the Human Rights Council; U.N., General Assembly Elects 18 Member States to Human Rights Council, Allowing Vote by 3 Member States in Article 19 Exemption over Financial Dues (Oct. 12, 2018).

 

Continued Violence in Cameroon

As discussed in previous posts, since 2016 Cameroon has been experiencing violence, and a de facto civil war, between its dominant Francophone citizens and its minority Anglophones. That violence has been continuing.[1]

Now thousands of people in the English-speaking areas are fleeing to the French-speaking capital of Yaoundé. One of those people, Pamela Njoke, and her two young children waited four hours in her hometown of Bamenda to get on a packed bus to go to the capital. She said, “People are dying everywhere. It is horrible.”

There also are bloody  battles between the government and Anglophone separatists seeking to form a new nation they call Ambazonia. An estimated 400 have been killed and thousands displaced. One of the leaders of a group of separatists has asserted that the October 7 national presidential election is banned in the Anglophone regions and any attempt to conduct the election will result in “military” action against such attempts.

On September 27 the separatists attacked a prison in the northwestern part of the country and freed 100 inmates.

The government also is fighting Boko Haram militants in the north of the country with additional abuses on both sides,. On September 30 President Paul Biya on a re-election campaign stop in the Far North region asserted that Boko Haram had been defeated in the country.

All of this violence and disruption are expected to suppress voting in the October 7 presidential election.

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[1]  Essomba & Searcey, Thousands Flee in Cameroon as Separatists Battle for a New Nation, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cameroon Lurches Toward Election Amid Separatist Conflict, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2018); Reuters, Cameroon Separatists Free 100 Prison Inmates Before election, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2018); Assoc. Press, Boko Haram Has Been Repelled, Cameroon’s Leader Declares, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2018); Reuters, As Cameroon Votes, Thousands Are Silenced by Violence, N.Y. Times (Oct. 4, 2018).

U.N. Human Rights Council’s Final Consideration of Cameroon’s Universal Periodic Review

On September 20, 2018, the U.N. Human Rights Council held its 39th regular session. An important item on the session’s agenda was the final review of the latest Universal Periodic Reviews of the human rights records of 11 states, including Cameroon.[1]

Just before this session the Council provided an Addendum to Cameroon’s national report that listed its responses to the 196 recommendations that had been made by other U.N. Members and Stakeholders. At the end of this session, the Council President said that of the 196 recommendations, Cameroon had “supported” 134, “noted” 59 and rejected 3.[2]

A close examination of the record, however, reveals the following rejections:

Recommendation Rejections
Abolish death penalty  14.5
Legalize honmosexuality, etc.  12.0
Diability rights    2.5
ICC membeship    1.5
Women;’s rights    1.0
Children’s rights    1.0
Birth registration    1.0
Abortion    1.0
Human rights defenders    1.0
No military courts for civilians    1.0
Ratify all H.R. treaties    1.0
Migrants rights    0.5
Stateless rights    0.5
No disappearances    0.5
Torture treaty opt. protocol   0.5
Independent investiagtions   0.5
TOTAL 40.0

Thus, the total of acceptances and noteds is 196-40 = 156, not 193.

Cameroon’s Foreign Minister, Lejeune Mbella Mbella, made an introductory statement that included the following comments on the current internal conflict:

  • The crisis in the Northwest and Southwest provinces began in 2016 with protests by advocates for English common law and Anglophone teachers.
  • Then an insurrection arose with atrocities in an effort to partition the country. These acts of revolt included kidnappings; killing of authorities, security forces, teachers and pupils; arson attacks; and recruitment of child soldiers.
  • The country’s security forces responded to restore order, security and peace and to defend the unitary state. These forces have been trained to observe ethics and professionalism despite provocations. There also are investigations of alleges abuses by these forces.
  • The government has adopted an emergency assistance plan for these two provinces with a platform for exchange of intelligence. It has a budgetary goal of 12.7 billion CFA.
  • Journalists are free to operate, but need to be protected.
  • Children’s right to education has been adversely affected by the violence. Cameroon supports the Declaration on Security in Schools proposed by Norway and Sweden.
  • Detainees are jailed (pursuant to criminal procedure) or put on house arrest. They are free to communicate with attorneys and families.
  • Cameroon is now proceeding to its national presidential election with nine candidates, three of whom are from the Northwest and Southwest provinces.

At the end of its session, the Council approved the Outcome of Cameroon’s UPR, which will be confirmed in a subsequent brief statement and a logical matrix of the recommendations that Cameroon “supported” or “noted.”[3]

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[1]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council,  Documentation (39th Regular Session). Previous posts about the current Cameroon UPR are listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CAMEROON.

[2]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cameroon: Addendum (Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review)(Advance Unedited Version)(Sept. 12, 2018).

[3] For example, from its prior UPR, here are (1) U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Human Rights Council on its twenty-fourth session (Advance unedited version)(Jan. 27, 2014) and (2) U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, UPR of Cameroon: thematic list of recommendations (Matrice of recommendations).

Amnesty International’s Report About Cameroon’s Conflict 

Cameroon’s current struggle between the majority Francophones and the minority Anglophones is the subject of a June 12 Amnesty International (AI) report.[1]

Recent History of Conflict

This report says the “unrest began in October 2016 when “lawyers and teachers in English-speaking cities went on strike in protest at having to use French in schools and courtrooms. In the ensuing clashes, six protesters were killed and hundreds arrested, some of whom were put on trial for charges carrying long sentences or the death penalty.”

English-speaking teachers and lawyers in the northwest and southwest then began calling for reforms and greater autonomy, criticizing what they called “the marginalization of the Anglophone population by French speakers.” In response, the government started a “crackdown, including arrests and an internet shutdown. . . . English-language separatists then picked up the momentum, calling for an independent state.”

The separatists then “burned down schools and killed at least 44 members of security forces in the past year. . . . They have vowed to paralyze the country until their leader Ayuk Tabe, who declared himself the president of the English-speaking Republic of Ambazonia, is released. He was arrested in December [2017] with 48 others in neighboring Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon.”

The government forces then “responded with arbitrary arrests and unlawful killings.” According to AI’s investigation, people “were blindfolded, gagged and beaten with shovels, hammers, planks and cables.” Samira Daoud, AI’s deputy director for West and Central Africa, said, “Security forces have indiscriminately killed, arrested and tortured people during military operations which have also displaced thousands of civilians.”

On October 1, 2017—the anniversary of Anglophone region’s independence from Britain–thousands took to the streets to demand a breakaway state. The military stepped in. Witnesses said troops opened fire from attack helicopters; the military denied this. [As a result,] “thousands of Anglophones fled the ensuing crackdown, which Cameroon authorities said was necessary to restore peace and curb banditry. They described it as an anti-terrorist operation.”

A month later, separatists launched the first guerrilla attacks on security forces, killing four over a few days.

This February witnesses say the government forces used “scorched earth tactics such as burning down villages then opening fire on fleeing residents. Then late last month the conflict’s bloodiest incident happened  when government security forces “surrounded and killed more than two dozen suspected separatists in the town of Menka, in Cameroon’s Northwest Region.”

France and Britain, which governed the country under League of Nations mandates after World War I until 1960 have tried to stay out of this conflict. France has condemned separatist violence and urged dialogue while Britain has “encouraged the parties to reject violence.”

Based upon this investigation and report, AI made the following recommendations to the Cameroonian authorities:

Ensuring accountability

  • Conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations detailed in this report;
  • Ensure that those identified as responsible for any human rights violations are promptly and fairly prosecuted in accordance with international fair-trial standards;
  • Take all legal measures to ensure accountability for crimes committed by the armed separatists.

Preventing arbitrary arrest and detention

  • Ensure that arrests and detentions are conducted in compliance with international human rights standards and domestic law, and that all security forces are trained on and understand these norms;
  • Ensure that there are sufficient, recognizable and precise grounds for arrest and that evidence is appropriately gathered. A suspect must only be arrested if there is a reasonable suspicion that he or she may have committed a crime. If there are insufficient grounds for arrest, the person must be immediately released;
  • Ensure that detainees are promptly brought before an independent civilian court that upholds international fair-trial standards, are informed of the charges against them, and have knowledge of and access to legal procedures allowing them to challenge the legality of their detention.

Preventing incommunicado detention, torture and death in custody

  • Ensure that all detained suspects are treated in accordance with international human rights standards, which includes access to a lawyer of their choice, family, medical assistance, to be held in a legal detention facility, in humane conditions free from cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and torture;
  • Publicly order the security forces to end the practice of detaining and interrogating people in unofficial detention sites;
  • Ensure that confessions or other evidence obtained through torture will never be invoked in legal proceedings;
  • Grant independent international monitors, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), unhindered access to all persons deprived of their liberty and allow them to carry out unannounced inspections of all detention facilities to investigate and monitor conditions;
  • Improve conditions in detention facilities and preserve prisoners’ physical and psychological integrity by providing all detainees with professional medical care, adequate food, water, lighting, and ventilation, in accordance with international standards.

Avoiding excessive and unnecessary use of force

  • Ensure that security forces abide by international policing standards, including the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, when responding to protests, and in particular restricting the use of firearms to situations of imminent threat of death or serious injury, or the equivalent;
  • Issue clear orders to the military, the gendarmes and the police commanders to immediately cease the use of excessive force in the context of cordon, search-and-arrest operations, as well as during public demonstrations;
  • Respect and protect the right of all persons to peacefully assemble and to associate with others.

Providing effective remedies to victims

  • Ensure that all victims of human rights violations and abuses are granted reparation including measures of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

Promoting dialogue

  • Restore the confidence between state representatives and the Anglophone communities by initiating an inclusive dialogue and consult with Anglophone population to address their concerns;
  • Address deeply-entrenched human rights violations, such as marginalization and exclusion, to prevent the escalation of the crisis and the resurgence of other social conflicts that often generate violence.

Conclusion

For members of the Cameroonian diaspora and for U.S. citizens, please let your elected representatives know of your concern for the welfare of the Cameroonian Anglophones. Support our brothers and sisters in that great country! I also invite comments with other ideas for engaging in this struggle from the U.S.

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[1] Amnesty Int’l, Cameroon: Anglophone Regions Gripped by Deadly Violence (June 11, 2018); Amnesty Int’l, Cameroon: A Turn for the Worse (June 11, 2018); Assoc. Press, Civilians Caught in Cameroon’s  Deadly Unrest Over Language, N.Y. Times (June 12, 2018); Reuters, Explainer: Anglophone Cameroon’s Separatist Conflict Gets Bloodier, N.Y. Times (June 1, 2018).