Government forces in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions have killed at least 170 civilians, used indiscriminate force and torched hundreds of homes over the past six months, Human Rights Watch said in new research released today. Armed separatists have also assaulted and kidnapped dozens of people during the same period, executing at least two men, amid intensifying violence.
“Cameroon’s authorities have an obligation to respond lawfully and to protect people’s rights during periods of violence,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s heavy-handed response targeting civilians is counterproductive and risks igniting more violence.”
Violence has intensified since October 2018 as government forces have conducted large-scale security operations and separatists have carried out attacks. Since October, at least 170 civilians have been killed in over 220 incidents in the North-West and South-West regions, according to media reports and Human Rights Watch research. Given the ongoing clashes and the difficulty of collecting information from remote areas, the number of civilian deaths is most likely higher.
“Cameroon is imploding from the inside and the level of uncertainty is extremely dire,” David Otto, director of Counter-Terrorism and Organized Crime for Global Risk International, told Fox News. “There are multiple cases of systematic rape, summary executions, extortion, public decapitation, mutilations, amputations, arson in villages, hospitals, unlawful detention, mass arrest and humiliation tactics from both state and non-state actors.”
Last month a Cameroonian nonprofit group the Rural Women Center for Education and Development documented that over 300 school-age girls had become pregnant as a result of rape, perpetrated by all sides of the conflict, with many resorting to savage and life-threatening abortion methods.
Kidnappings by separatists have also surged, including more than 300 students under age 18 kidnapped in at least 12 incidents. All were released, most after a ransom was paid.
In one case, a man in his 50s said separatists kidnapped and held him for ransom days after the October presidential election – an exercise the separatists opposed – as he drove between Kumba and Buea in the South-West region. He was taken to a remote base operated by the Ambazonia Restoration Forces – one of the armed separatist groups operating in the Anglophone regions and affiliated with the Ambazonia Interim Government – where he said he saw fighters execute two young men.
“They were accused of voting,” he said. “They were beaten to death.”
In the fall of 2017, Cameroonian security forces suppressed large-scale protests organized to celebrate the symbolic independence of Anglophone regions from the country’s French-speaking areas, killing more than 20 protesters. Since then, the emergence of armed separatist groups has been accompanied by attacks and a growing militarization of the Anglophone regions. The unrest has displaced more than a half-million people since late 2016.
According to UN estimates more than 437,000 people are currently displaced in Cameroon, 246,000 of them in the Southwest Region, 105,000 in the Northwest Region, and 86,000 in the Littoral and West Regions.
Most of these are women and children. And people who become displaced face grave situations whether in Cameroon or Nigeria. Having fled with very little, they are arriving in impoverished host communities where food supplies are strained and with few facilities for health, education, water and sanitation.
As well as causing internal displacement in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon, the deadly conflict has also forced over 35,000 Cameroonians to seek asylum in Nigeria. With the fighting continuing, this number is expected to rise.
In a recent statement, UNHCR said “UNHCR now requires US$184 million for its operations in Cameroon and Nigeria – including US$35.4 million needed urgently for critical life-saving assistance.”