CHRDA, 13 Civil Society Organizations Appeal and urge AU to engage in resolving the Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon
H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat
Chairman of the African Union Commission
African Union Headquarters
P.O. Box 3243, Roosevelt Street W21K19
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
H.E. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Chairperson of the African Union
African Union Headquarters
P.O. Box 3243, Roosevelt Street W21K19
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
H.E. Fatima Kyari Mohammed
Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union to the United Nations
305 E 47th St, New York, NY 10017, USA
New York, USA
EXCELLENCIES: We, the undersigned human rights organizations, practitioners, and experts, are writing to urge you to take concrete action to confront the current crisis in Cameroon. The conflict in the Anglophone Regions of Cameroon continues to worsen, and has deteriorated in such a manner, and at such a pace, that it threatens not only the state of Cameroon, but the wider region. It is our grave concern, that in the absence of firm action by regional organizations including the African Union, the situation will only continue to deteriorate.
What is known as the ‘Anglophone Crisis’ today has been known for generations as ‘the Anglophone question’ or the ‘Anglophone problem’, with roots in a controversial decolonization process that remains contested by Anglophone Cameroonians. The crux of this controversy lies in the plebiscite that offered the former British Southern Cameroons the option to join either independent Nigeria or Cameroon, without the opportunity for the formation of their own independent state. Acts by Presidents Ahidjo (1960-1982) and Biya (1982- present) have been perceived by Anglophone Cameroonians as marginalising, such as the abolition of the federal state that gave the Anglophone regions a degree of autonomy, and the removal of the second star from the Cameroonian flag, which represented the country’s bilingualism.
Protests originating from the imposition of French-language judges, teachers, and procedures in Anglophone-region courts and schools began in late 2016, and were met with a heavy-handed military and police response. This was followed by the detention of Anglophone leaders in January 2017 (Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium) and sporadic denial of internet service in the Anglophone regions. As the crisis worsened, Anglophone communities began observing weekly ‘ghost days’ (shutting down markets and prohibiting travel) and closing schools, keeping children at home. In some areas, children have not been in school since the Fall of 2016. On October 1, 2017, Anglophone separatists symbolically declared an independent state, ‘Ambazonia.’ In the following months, increased violence by the Cameroonian security forces sparked retaliatory attacks by armed separatist groups.
Over time, the conflict has birthed approximately nineteen armed groups who use irregular tactics in confrontations with government forces (International Crisis Group, 2019: 32-33). Some of these groups have killed and dismembered security force members and harmed and kidnapped Anglophone civilians who appear unsupportive of secession. Meanwhile government forces have engaged in extrajudicial killings, beating and arresting protestors, burning villages, and using force disproportionately and indiscriminately. The crisis’ evolution has created a full-fledged humanitarian disaster, rife with grave human rights violations, ongoing violence, and death.
The Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (2019) reported that 206 villages have been partially or completely burned since the beginning of the crisis. The rate of attacks on villages has increased steadily over the last two years. Attacks of this sort have created mass displacement. Recent estimates suggest that 550,000 people have been internally displaced as a result of the crisis. “[A]round 80 per cent are thought to have sought refuge in the forest, where they have no access to shelter, water or sanitation” (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2019: 16). Approximately 35,000 people have fled the Anglophone regions to neighbouring countries.
The United Nations estimates that 4.3 million people are in need of humanitarian aid in Cameroon. These civilians often lack food, water, shelter, or adequate medical care. Sexual and gender-based violence is increasing, and health centres have been targeted by combatants, facing burning, shooting, and raiding. In some Anglophone areas, children have been out of school for nearly three years. Pupils, students, and teachers have been kidnapped and school buildings have been burned. According to Norwegian Refugee Council Director Jan Egeland, who recently visited the Anglophone regions, “[w]e risk losing a generation to illiteracy” (Egeland, 2019). Egeland’s statement was underlined by a UNICEF announcement in June 2019, that the targeting of education in the Anglophone regions has seen at least 600,000 children affected, with 75 schools destroyed.
Domestic Efforts to Address the Crisis
The government has made some efforts to address the crisis. In 2017, it established the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism (Decree No. 2017/013, 23
January 2017). In 2018, it created the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Committee (Decree No. 2018/719, 30 November 2018). Neither of these bodies has “undertaken investigations, let alone informed the public of the results or provided compensation to victims.” In a private communication made in connection with the CHRDA-RWCHR report, one Cameroonian lawyer expressed the concern that these initiatives were ‘just a tool to show the international community that the government is committed to resolving conflict.’” (CHRDA & RWCHR, 2019:11).
In February 2019, Prime Minister Dion Ngute travelled to the Anglophone regions carrying a message of peace and dialogue but maintaining the government’s position to ban discussions of separation. On the second to last day of PM Ngute’s visit to the South-West region, the military burned over 70 homes in Mankon, North-West Region (Human Rights Watch, 2019).
International Efforts to Address the Crisis
International responses to the crisis have been muted. Some countries have made statements encouraging peace and dialogue, and countries such as Belgium and Germany have offered to assist the Cameroonian government in managing bilingualism.
In May 2018, the African Commission released a resolution on Cameroon’s human rights situation. In February 2019, the United States cut some military aid to Cameroon due to human rights violations (Browne & Hansler, 2019), and has also imposed targeted sanctions on key government members. In April 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to address the crisis. In May 2019, the UNSC held an Arria-Formula Meeting on the humanitarian situation in Cameroon, sponsored by the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Dominican Republic.
Crimes Against Humanity
The CHRDA-RWCHR report (2019) provides evidence that the following crimes against humanity have been perpetrated in Cameroon:
-deportation or forcible transfer of populations
-imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law
-rape and sexual violence
-persecution of the Anglophone minority
Violence has been perpetrated by both government security forces and non-state actors, including local armed groups. “Separatist militias are battling government forces, while two organizations have been directing separatists from outside Cameroon to fight not only against Cameroonian security forces, but also against pro-government “self-defence” groups. Meanwhile, criminal gangs terrorize local inhabitants, wreaking havoc” (CHRDA-RWC, 2019: 27). The report findings also indicate that much of the violence is ‘intentional and planned,’ including for example murdering people in their homes, indiscriminately shooting at civilians, engaging in violence against women, and burning villages. “The evidence points to a deliberate and violent campaign against civilian populations” (CHRDA-RWC, 2019: 7).
Contextually, it is important to note that beyond the Anglophone Crisis, Cameroon faces significant challenges. Boko Haram continues to wage a campaign of terror against the military and civilians in the Lake Chad area, including Cameroon’s Far North region. Growing numbers of refugees seeking asylum from Nigeria and the Central African Republic are also entering Cameroon. Following peaceful protests in January 2019, opposition leader Maurice Kamto and hundreds of his supporters were arrested. Kamto remains in Kondegui maximum security prison in Yaoundé to the present day, and his supporters have protested in Cameroon, in Europe, and in North America.
It is the Cameroonian government’s primary responsibility to protect all its populations from mass atrocity crimes. This crisis now demands regional and international attention and action to reduce violence, protect civilians, uphold universal human rights, and facilitate dialogue and peace.
GUIDED BY African Union (AU)’s vision of ending all wars, civil conflicts, gender-based violence, violent conflicts and preventing genocide in the continent by 2020 through the Silencing the Guns Intiative.
INSPIRED by the African Union (AU) Department of Peace and Security and its commitment to mediation and conflict prevention and its ambition to operationalize the AU Mediation Support Unit (MSU) and the 833rd meeting of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) on “The Role of Women in Conflict Prevention and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: The Contribution of Women Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons and Returnees in Africa”.
ACKNOWLEDGE the contributions of the African Union and its endorsement of the importance of treaties in international relations, notably in the area of maintenance of peace, encouraging dialogue along with the consolidation and promotion of international law.
BEARING IN MIND the African Union’s commitment to Statute of the African Union Commission on International Law (AUCIL) and African Union’s Articles 3 and 4 which underscore the importance of accelerating the socio-economic development of the Continent through the promotion of research in all fields;
WELCOME United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s remarks at the United Nations Security Council on Conflict prevention and mediation:
Conflict prevention and mediation are two of the most important tools at our disposal to reduce human suffering. When we act early, and are united, we can successfully prevent crises from escalating, saving lives and reducing suffering and fulfilling the most fundamental mandate of the United Nations, as set out in the Preamble of the Charter.
Despite these efforts, peace faces enormous obstacles. Divisions in the international community mean that wars continue to rage as external actors dither or even fuel the violence. Civilians pay the price. The fragmentation of non-State armed groups and militias causes even greater chaos. There is a resurgence of populism and policies that contribute to resentment, marginalization and extremism, even in societies that are not at war. There are attempts in some countries to roll back human rights and the progress that has been made over recent decades on gender and inclusion. Space for civil society is shrinking.
The human and financial costs of conflict are high, and rising. Forced displacement is at the highest levels since the Second World War, and hunger is resurgent after years of decline. We cannot afford to reduce the energy and resources we invest in prevention and mediation. But let’s not fool ourselves. Prevention and mediation will not work without broader political efforts. I urge Council members, and all Member States, to strive for greater unity so that prevention and mediation efforts are as effective as possible. That is the only way to meet our responsibilities to the people we serve.
ENDORSE United Nations Security Council Resolutions:
- Protection of civilians in armed conflict – Missing persons in armed conflictS/RES/2474(2019);
- Women and peace and security: Sexual violence in conflict (S/RES/2467(2019));
- Children and armed conflict (S/RES/2427 (2018));
- Protection of civilians in armed conflict (S/RES/2417 (2018));
RECALL AFRICAN UNION Treaties:
- African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
- African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention);
- OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa;
- Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
FURTHER RECALL Cameroon’s Commitment to International Treaties:
- Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
- Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture;
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
- Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance;
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
- Convention on the Rights of the Child;
- Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict;
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
REMIND Cameroon’s acceptance of individual complaints procedures for Cameroon:
- Individual complaints procedure under the Convention against Torture;
- Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
REQUEST the Commission to ensure that:
A) The African Union (Peace and Security Council) sets up a Commission of Inquiry, including a panel of experts, and demands a Fact-finding mission to Cameroon with access to all regions of the country;
a. Specifically, it is imperative that the Commission of Inquiry include an investigation into the credible evidence of crimes against humanity.
B) The African Union engages the diasporic groups of Cameroonians living abroad as they compose the leadership of many of the non-state armed groups. Further, many individuals in the diaspora are themselves responsible for provoking hate speech and violence amongst the non-state armed groups;
a. Specifically, it is imperative that the African Union directly denounce and condemn all individuals spreading hate over social media, especially those operating from safety overseas.
C) The African Union initiates a peace building process in Cameroon;
D) The African Union works with various members of the United Nations Security Council to find a resolution and prevent further conflict in Cameroon;
E) The African Union should urge the Government of the Republic of Cameroon to—
- Initiate broad-based dialogue without preconditions and make a credible, full faith effort to work with religious and community leaders in the Anglophone region to address grievances and seek nonviolent solutions to resolve conflict;
- Directly engage with separatist leaders in a series of confidence building measures such as track two diplomacy. This must be done in a way that ensures the safety of all those who partake. Specifically, this refers to the Cameroonians in the diaspora in the United States;
- Respect the fundamental rights of all Cameroonian citizens, including political activists and journalists;
- Work with regional human rights organizations in Cameroon and in Africa to address the crisis;
- Ensure that any security operations are conducted in accordance with international human rights standards, including that security forces only use force under appropriate circumstances;
- Transparently investigate all allegations of human rights violations committed in the Anglophone regions and take the necessary measures to prevent arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, deaths in custody, and inhumane prison conditions;
- Release the leaders and members of the opposition parties, human rights defenders, civil society activists, political prisoners, journalists, trade unionists, teachers, and any other citizens who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained without trial or charge.
- Ensure that detainees are treated fairly and humanely, with proper judicial proceedings, including a registry of those detained by the Cameroonian security forces, and with full access to legal resources;
- Ensure that arrests and detention have been made in accordance with the principles established by the Guidelines on Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-Trial Detention in Africa (Luanda Guidelines)
- Ensure that Cameroon’s antiterrorism legislation is used only to prosecute offenses that would be considered acts of terrorism under international legal standards, and cease to use this legislation to sanction activities that are protected by national and international guarantees of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association with others.
- Cease any procedures that make the operation of humanitarian organizations in the Northwest and Southwest difficult and ensure broad, and inclusive action.
- Demilitarize the Northwest and Southwest of Cameroon, and cease intrusive practices such as home invasions that only cause radicalization to increase.
- Ensure that in any dialogue that is initiated with separatists that the voices of women and youth along with enthic and religious minorities are heard.
F) The African Union should work with its members and other like-minded states to:
- Make recommendations to prevent further human rights violations in the context of peaceful demonstrations and ensure accountability;
- Impose targeted punitive sanctions against individuals and entities responsible for grave human rights violations in Cameroon.
- Offer their good offices to ensure that the Cameroonian Government is willing to sit down with the separatists to facilitate the dialogue needed to end the violence
G) The African Union should urge the separatist groups to
1. Engage with Cameroonian government officials, as well as civil society and religious leaders, in a broad-based inclusive dialogue without preconditions to peacefully express grievances and credibly engage in nonviolent efforts to resolve the conflict;
2. Publicly announce their support for the immediate termination of inhumane practices such as decapitations, assassinations of government personnel, and the targeting of civil society leaders;
3. Cease the usage of misinformation and disinformation with the general public that both intentionally and unintentionally has caused the spread of violence and human suffering. For instance, cease politicizing humanitarian assistance by spreading the lie that it is laced with poison;
4. Cease all actions against international and local NGOs including the kidnaping of the staff of organizations, and prohibiting the passage of their vehicles through checkpoints on roads such as those in between Buea and Kumba.
5. Clearly, and without hesitation, denounce all acts that incite attacks and violence against civilians, government personnel, and officials alike.
6. Immediately stop committing human rights abuses, including killings of civilians, use of child soldiers, torture, immediately end all forms of kidnapping, and extortion;
7. End the school boycott immediately and cease attacks on schools, teachers, and education officials, and allow for the safe return of all students to class under the current education system;
8. End the economic sabotage and ghost towns that are wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of civilians across the two Anglophone regions.
9. End incitement to violence and hate speech on the part of the diaspora; and
10. Immediately release all civilians illegally detained or kidnapped in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions
Atrocities should not be allowed to continue with impunity in Cameroon by any party to the conflict. All perpetrators of grave violations need to be held to the same standard regardless of whether they are government security forces or separatists. We further believe that peace talks and mediation are vital to ensuring that peace is returned to Cameroon and we request that African Union lead the effort.
We look forward to the African Union’s engagement in resolving the conflict in Cameroon.
African Bar Association
Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA)
Anglophone Crisis Project
Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Montreal Institute of Genocide and Human Rights Studies
Cameroon American Council
Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)
Reach Out Cameroon
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Debbie Stothard (Secretary General, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
Download the pdf letter here CHRDA letter to AU
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