By Amos Fofung N.
Cameroon, once a harbinger of peace in the troubled Central African sub-region is now at the brinks of civil war, a phenomenon that has engulfed much of African states since independence. Cameroon’s once cherished peace is at risk. A litmus test for all patriots of the Green-red-yellow nation respected in Africa for its agricultural capabilities, national football team, cultural diversity, musical genre and its feared and respected octogenarian president.
Since 2014, Cameroon continues to face constant security threats from Nigerian based terrorist sect Boko Haram in its Northern regions. Now the country is fighting to stay united amid calls for secession in its two English-speaking regions in what is today known as the Anglophone Crisis.
Yes, Cameroon has never been the most peaceful country in Africa. The Central African state has for sure never top the ranking of Human rights classification in the continent. But little over nine years ago, Cameroon was classified among the most peaceful and amenable country which did not fail to embrace refugees, give out aid to needy countries and resolve its international disputes by extending an “olive branch”. Its human right record was passably encouraging.
Except for poor management of some civil unrests such as the economic protest in 2008, police excesses, detention of political prisoners and poor detention conditions, peace was Cameroon’s greatest asset and there were considerable efforts to maintain and respect basic human rights.
For an African state struggling with economic challenges, health hazards and bad governance due to a worn-out political system, the path cover was applaudable and hopes were high for a better tomorrow. Many are those who pray to see Cameroon reclaim it once cherished peace.
The world bank while granting funds to assist refugees wrote that “Cameroon has a long history of hosting refugees from neighboring countries. Today it generously hosts almost 350,000 refugees from the Central African Republic and Nigeria, with about 10,000 new arrivals since the start of 2018 alone.”
While we agree that peace is not the absence of war, thighs were way better than they are now. Today, a keen look at the bend negotiated by Cameroon’s human rights statistics over the years as painted by international organizations is troubling. What change? What promoted the Central African giant to slip so backward?
Nigerian based journalist, Philip Obaji in his piece “Cameroon used to welcome refugees. Now it forcibly expels them,” narrates the ordeal Nigerian refugees who are fleeing Boko Harman crackdown go through after been forced to leave Cameroon. He states that after they are forcefully repatriated to Nigeria, most of them end up in the dragnets of the terrorist group they fled from.
Aside from its poor reception and treatment of refugees, its own citizens decry the fact they have been deprived of their fundamental human rights.
Cameroon’s troubling human rights record
Human rights defenders, including civil society activists, journalists, trade unionists, lawyers and teachers have always been under constant intimidation, harassment and detention. But with the attacks by Boko Haram insurgency and the birth of Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis, the situation is alarming.
International and local human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Transparency International, International Red Cross, Office of the United Nation High Commissioner for Human rights, National Commission for Human Rights and Freedom, Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa among others have all raised concerns over Cameroon’s current human rights situation.
The United Nation, European Union, Commonwealth, African Union and foreign countries such as the United State of America and Canada have all joined their voices calling on authorities in Cameroon to respect human rights as it relates to its signed and ratified conventions.
Some have even gone as far as proposing sanctions on Cameroon for allege human rights violations with the United State set to cut back millions of dollars in aid to Cameroon military after it was alleged that aid which was donated to fight Boko Haram terrorist is redirected to combat civil protesters in the restive English-speaking regions. The case continues to build momentum at the US congress.
Cameroon’s human rights abuses are not limited to military and government excesses. Boko Haram terrorist sect in the Northern regions of Cameroon have since 2014 rained havoc on the local population. The terror group carried out suicide bombings, kidnappings and ransom collections, burning of schools and villages.
In the restive English-speaking regions, separatist armed groups have carried out kidnappings of government officials, traditional and municipal authorities, journalists and members of the civil society. Gruesome killings and amputation of government and military personnel has equally been attributed to them. The separatist armed groups continue to disrupt the effective resumption of educational institutions and have been accused of burning down schools.
Amnesty International in its 2017/2018 report said “dozens of schools were closed in the English-speaking regions between November 2016 and September 2017, following strikes and boycotts called for by trade unions and members of civil society. Extreme elements within Anglophone pro-secession groups carried out attacks on education facilities that “breached the boycott” …more than 30 schools were burned and severely damaged.”
U.S department of state in its 2017 Human Rights report on Cameroon highlighted several instances of unlawful killings, torture and other cruel inhumane treatment, arbitral arrest, detention and the denial of fair and public trial among others.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the Anglophone crisis has shifted into an armed conflict, affecting more than 4 million people signaling a need for action.
True-lies of government
Despite reports of violations by the Cameroonian military, the government has regularly maintained that the military exercises professionalism while carrying out its duty. On some occasions, the governments announce investigations into allegations such as the torture of Boko Haram suspects by elements of the elites’ force, Rapid Intervention Battalion, BIR.
The results of such investigations are hardly made public, thereby raising a doubt on if they were ever opened.
Addressing over 100 country representatives at the 40th Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 25, the Minister of external relations, Lejeune Mbella Mbella said Cameroon’s defense and security forces have remained professional in executing their duties in the two restive regions. Presenting they governments side of the Story, the Minister noted that the government is determined to resolve the crisis and had taken considerable efforts to safe-guard and ensure that human rights are respected.