Bill Urges Blinken to Hold Cameroon Accountable for Human Rights Abuses

By Nalova Akua
Nalova Akua
Nalova Akua
Nalova Akua is a Cameroonian multimedia freelance journalist.
February 18, 2022 Updated: February 20, 2022

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) has introduced a proposal urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken to hold the government of Cameroon accountable for human rights abuses linked to Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis.

The Feb. 2 bill came after a damning report by Human Rights Watch that detailed the killing of children and women by Cameroonian soldiers during three separate military operations in the embattled northwest English-speaking region last December.

At least eight people, including three children, two women, and an elderly man, were killed while dozens of homes were razed during the raid, according to the report.

“The consistent retaliatory, punitive raids by state forces into local communities routinely result in serious human rights violations, including the destruction and burning of villages, arbitrary arrest, and extrajudicial killings,” Billy Burton, co-director of Cameroon Anglophone Crisis Database of Atrocities, told The Epoch Times.

In a recent report, the group said Cameroonian government soldiers conducted “wide-scale burnings and extrajudicial executions of some civilians” in Anglophone Cameroon.

In 2016, English-speaking lawyers and teachers in Cameroon’s two Anglophone states took to the streets to protest the appointment of French-speaking teachers and magistrates in Anglophone schools and courts. The protests were met with disproportionate use of force by government security forces and the arrest and detention of the leaders.

Events then spiraled out of control, and a separatist movement emerged, calling for the independence of the two Anglophone Cameroon regions of Northwest and Southwest, which they call Ambazonia.

Epoch Times Photo
In November, Anglophone separatists fighting for a breakaway state from Cameroon ambushed government soldiers with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) at Matazem, Santa Sub-Division in the country’s embattled North West Region killing at least 11 soldiers. (Anonymous/The Epoch Times)

The war has left more than 4,000 people dead, hundreds of thousands displaced internally, and at least 60,000 as refugees in neighboring Nigeria. Hundreds of thousands of children have been deprived of school, and the local economy is in freefall.

“Education remains a central part of the crisis, and the horrific violence perpetrated against schoolchildren, educators, and schools illustrates that painful reality,” Burton said.

“The use of more powerful, sophisticated IEDs over time has enabled separatist groups to combat state forces more effectively, but it also presents significant risks to the civilian population. A number of civilians have been wounded in IED explosions, and that is likely to continue.”

Rebecca Tinsley, a London-based activist with The Global Campaign for Peace and Justice in Cameroon, said that both the Cameroon security services and the armed separatists are known to “behave with impunity” toward the civilians they claim to be protecting.

“The armed forces should be protecting civilians, but respected international human rights groups repeatedly find evidence that the security services are implicated in atrocities against civilians: burning villages, detaining people without due process, exercising little caution when they open fire, which means civilians are harmed,” she told The Epoch Times.

“How can people trust anyone carrying a gun in these circumstances?

“Both the Cameroon security services and the armed separatists seek to demonstrate their total control over the Anglophone regions, using brutal force and threats.”

The worsening humanitarian crisis resulting from the conflict in Cameroon pushed some U.S. lawmakers in July and October 2021 to petition the Department of Homeland Security to designate Cameroon for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which means Cameroonian migrants entering across the southern U.S. border can’t be refused entry.

Epoch Times Photo
Caskets of schoolchildren slain by unidentified gunmen in Southwest Cameroon on Oct. 24, 2020. (Anonymous/The Epoch Times)

“I see the TPS as a humanitarian gesture even as domestic U.S. politics haven’t yet caught up with the Anglophone conflict,” Christopher Fomunyoh, senior associate for Africa at the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, told The Epoch Times.

“It is, therefore, meant not to attract newcomers to cross the border illegally, but to protect those that are already within the U.S. so they are not deported into a situation of prevailing conflict.

“The TPS is often granted to citizens from countries in conflict whose residency in the United States has expired or not yet legalized. For example, Liberians benefitted from that consideration when their country was at war.”

That’s why thousands of desperate Cameroonian migrants have been trooping into the U.S. southern borders, according to The Intercept.

According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, hundreds of Cameroonians who had fled their country to the United States between 2017 and 2020 due to the crisis faced “unfair prosecution, enforced disappearances, torture, and other serious harm” after they were deported.

“The US government utterly failed Cameroonians with credible asylum claims by sending them back to harm in the country they fled, as well as mistreating already traumatized people before and during deportation,” Lauren Seibert, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“The Cameroon and U.S. governments need to remedy these abuses, and US authorities should provide opportunities for wrongly deported Cameroonians to return and reapply for asylum.”

The Cameroon Anglophone conflict has been raging for five years now, with no end in sight. While the Cameroon government insists the form of the state is nonnegotiable, leaders of the Ambazonia secessionist movements maintain there’s no turning back in their quest for the independence of English-speaking regions of Cameroon.

The state of Cameroon today is the product of a complex colonial history, which is also the source of the present conflict.

Initially annexed by the Germans in 1884, the territory was later divided and ruled as separate entities by the French and the British in the aftermath of the defeat of the Germans in World War I. At independence in 1960/61, the two territories reunited and formed a federal state, with the French-speaking section constituting about 80 percent, and the English-speaking section constituting about 20 percent, both in territory and population.

The federal structure that guaranteed the rights of the minority Anglophone section was hastily dissolved in 1972, thus laying the groundwork for claims of political and economic marginalization by the Anglophones.

“As in every armed conflict, hardliners on both sides think they can prevail through the barrel of the gun,” said Fomunyoh. “They are wrong.

“The international community has been ineffective with regards to this conflict, and the posture of some countries has been indifferent and outright shameful in light of so much human pain and suffering in the conflict zones of the Northwest and Southwest regions.”

Tinsley of The Global Campaign for Peace and Justice in Cameroon agrees and accuses France and Britain of “valuing trade and military links [with Cameroon government] more than human rights.”

“The U.S. is the only international player to take the Anglophone crisis seriously. We urge the African Union, the Commonwealth, and the U.N. to apply sustained pressure on the Biya regime to announce a road map toward peace negotiations,” she said.

The United States government had in 2021 imposed visa restrictions on people thought to be stalling peace efforts in Cameroon’s crisis-hit Anglophone regions.

“Another factor that has contributed to prolonging the war is the economic gain being made by merchants of war from both parties,” said Emile Sunjo, senior lecturer of International Relations and Conflict Resolution at the University of Buea in Southwest Cameroon.

“The war has created many avenues for significant personal enrichment, and ending it would mean these benefits cease to exist,” he told The Epoch Times.

Nalova Akua
Nalova Akua is a Cameroonian multimedia freelance journalist.