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Civilians Bear Brunt Of Unabated Violence In Anglophone Cameroon – Amnesty International Warns

Amnesty International warns that Cameroon is on the verge of backsliding to ‘fragile state’ with the escalating conflict between Anglophone separatists and government forces.

Fighting between separatist groups in Cameroon’s anglophone regions and the government forces is exacting a devastating scale of destruction, a new research by London-based human rights group, Amnesty International, has revealed.

In 2017, protests over perceived marginalisation by the Francophone ruling majority erupted in the Anglophone regions with violent quelling of the demonstrations propelling  some Anglophone separatists to take up arms against the security forces.

According to the new research released on Tuesday, July 27, the violence has continued unabated for more than three years since the separatist self-declared independence for  Ambazonia.

Dozens of civilians caught in the crossfires have been killed with many villages destroyed, Amnesty International said, since it began documentation in 2019.

“All parties to the conflict in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions have committed human rights violations and abuses, and civilians are caught in the middle,” Fabien Offner, Amnesty International’s Central Africa Researcher said.

“In one particularly appalling case, armed separatists shot dead two elderly women with barrage rifles; in another, Fulani vigilantes burned hundreds of houses and killed four people in a terrifying attack.”

Offner said despite the difficulty in obtaining accurate information about the human rights crisis unfolding in the regions due to poor road and telecommunications networks, there was  no excuse to “look away – without strong action by the authorities and the international community, civilians will continue to bear the brunt of the crisis.”

The Anglophone regions of Cameroon make up approximately 20 per cent of the country’s population in  the Southwest and Northwest  where violence had recently intensified.

Human rights abuses

The research found that the situation had also heightened tensions between  armed separatists and Fulani armed groups accused of cooperating with the authorities.

Quoting the United Nations, the research said at least 22 civilians including 15 children and two pregnant women were killed in Ngarbuh following a military operation on February, 13,2020.

It cited a government inquiry which found that during the incident, “the detachment commander decided to enlist 17 members of a local vigilante committee.”

The research added that several sources confirmed that members of that “local vigilante committee” were Fulani armed groups.

The research found that  at least 4,200 people were displaced from seven villages in Nwa located along Cameroon’s border with Nigeria, following attacks by Fulani vigilante groups in which at least eight people were killed between February 22 and 26, 2021.

Citing the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA), the research said the Fulani herders “have carried out over a dozen raids against the natives in the villages of Nwa in less than a month.”

Satellite images analysed by Amnesty International show some villages that were destroyed or burnt down in Nwa in February 2021.

A photo of the damage in Nwa subdivision was geolocated using high resolution satellite imagery from 2019. Satellite imagery from February 17, 2020 shows changes in the structures at the same location. Photo: Amnesty International/ @2021 Planet Lab Inc.

It said it was unclear whether Fulani vigilante groups attacked the villages or whether the destruction took place during clashes with armed separatist groups.

“For example, imagery taken from the village of Sih on 5 March 2021 shows large areas of blackened vegetation, indicating it was recently burned,” the research said.

“Like many areas in the Northwest region, villages in Nwa subdivision are poorly mapped, meaning not all locations could be verified.”

It said the human rights abuses by the Fulani armed groups continued in Koshin, Fangs and Bu-u villages of the Northwest region.

“Between 30 January and 7 July 2020, five people were killed, 600 houses were burned down, and at least 4,500 people were displaced from Koshin, Fangs and Bu-u villages (North-West).”

“These violations took place during attacks perpetrated by about 200 members of Fulani vigilante groups,” according to reports by OCHA.

According to unofficial figures gathered by Amnesty International researchers, 162 Mbororo people have been killed, 270,000 euros in ransom payment and 300 homes destroyed in attacks by separatists in Nwa  since 2017.

It added that “2,500 cattle have been killed or seized.”

Amnesty International said leaders of separatist groups, and participants of the media networks they manage, have also targeted Mbororo communities in aggressive speeches broadcast online.

Some of the speeches, the rights group said, could constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence, according to Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Security personnel have also been targeted, the research said.

It said at least four policemen were killed in an ambush near the town of Bali Nyonga in the Northwest between June and July 2021, adding that two gendarmes were beheaded in an attack attributed to the separatists in the town of Babadjou in the West region, bordering the Northwest.

In another instance of human rights abuses, the army in Bamenda 3 subdivision killed a civilian driving a car, with the separatists kidnapping six local officials in the town of Ekondo Titi in the Southwest region.

Govt’s responsibility

Offner said the Cameroonian authorities must deliver on their responsibility to protect “the entire population indiscriminately.”

He added that the authorities should accept the fact-finding mission the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights had called for.

The researcher said the international community must publicly call on the Cameroonian authorities to urgently initiate thorough, independent, impartial investigations into allegations of human rights violations.

“If there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute those suspected of criminal responsibility in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts without recourse to the death penalty,” Offner said.

“In addition, the international community must ensure that the humanitarian response aimed at addressing the needs of those affected by the violence, including refugees and internally displaced, is adequately funded.”

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Aishat Babatunde

Aishat Babatunde heads the digital reporting desk. Before joining HumAngle, she worked at Premium Times and Nigerian Tribune. She is a graduate of English from the University of Ibadan.

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