Anglophone separatists and the Cameroonian military have been accused of committing grave atrocities against civilians in the country, according to a new report by the US-based Human Rights Watch.
Fighting between the Anglophone separatists and government forces began in 2016 after protests over perceived marginalisation by the Francophone ruling majority erupted in the English-speaking regions (Northwest and Southwest) with violent quelling.
According to the report released on Monday, August 2, the continued violence underscored the urgent need to hold the separatists and the military accountable for abuses, and protect communities at risk.
The various human rights abuses perpetrated by both sides include sexual violence and/or rape on civilians, indicriminate attacks, and malicious murder, assaults on civilians and aid organisations including looting and desecration of religious sacraments.
The report said Cameroonian security forces killed two civilians, raped a 53-year-old woman, destroyed and looted at least 33 homes, shops, as well as a traditional leader’s palace in the Northwest region on June 8 and 9, 2021.
The separatist fighters in the Southwest region were blamed for killing a 12-year-old boy on June 6, and a 51-year-old teacher on July 1.
“Further, on June 25, separatist fighters in the North-West region kidnapped four humanitarian workers and held them overnight,” the report said.
The Human Rights Watch report quoted a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in a report on June 6, saying members of an armed group attacked a religious center in Mamfe, South-West region, “killing a 12-year-old boy and wounding a 16-year-old boy.”
It added that on July 1, local media reported that suspected separatist fighters killed Fuh Max Dang, a physics teacher at Government Bilingual High School in Kumba, Southwest region.
Human Rights Watch said it spoke to a relative of the deceased, who said that separatist fighters had previously threatened the teacher, warning him that he would face consequences if he did not stop teaching.
The recent uptick in violations, the report noted, came amid renewed clashes, with the army spokesperson reporting that security forces were involved “in at least 30 heavy gun battles with separatists in June.”
“Cameroon’s security forces have an obligation to lawfully counter attacks by armed separatist groups, and protect people’s rights during periods of violence,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But yet again, we learn that they have responded to the threat from separatist groups with attacks on civilians.”
Allegrozzi called for international action to prevent further escalation of the crisis.
Atonfack Guemo, the Cameroonian army spokesperson, stated in a report, that Cameroon’s military had involved in at least 30 heavy gun battles with seperatist in just the month of June.
Human Rights Watch emailed its findings on July 15, 2021 to the army spokesperson requesting responses to specific questions on actions of government forces touching on human rights violations, but Guemo did not reply.
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