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boats, nine armored vehicles and an upgrade of a Cessna aircraft for Cameroon’s rapid intervention battalion; and withdrawn its offer for Cameroon to be part of the State Partnership Program.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.
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.
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.
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).