Saturday, 22 February 2020

Outrage Over Global Inaction On Cameroon ‘Genocide’

The recent killings in Southern Cameroon have elicited outcry from the international community. Assistant Editor BOLA OLAJUWON reports on the crisis and its genesis.

The killings in Cameroon since the beginning of the 2016 insurrection over agitations for self-determination by the people of the southern region, a former British colony, have generated concerns among the United Nations (UN) diplomats and human rights community. 

This followed the French Government’s veto of the move by the United States (U.S.) to table the crisis for discussion at the UN Security Council. Diplomats and activists had pressured the U.S. to take the necessary actions after presenting a detailed catalogue of killings in the area. This demand by the people of Southern Cameroon and their sympathisers is considered treasonous by President Paul Biya-led government.

Lamentations in Anglophone areas over killings

The massacre of dozens of people in two areas—Mbam in Nkum area in Bui Division and Ngarbuh in Ntumbaw in Donga Mantum Division in the North West Region of Anglophone Region— had further alarmed aggrieved Anglophone Cameroonians, who now call themselves Ambazonians, and the international community. In one of the incidents, nine members of one family with an eight-month-old baby were killed and houses razed on Valentine’s Day in Ngarbuh.
Outrage Over Global Inaction On Cameroon ‘Genocide’
Outrage Over Global Inaction On Cameroon ‘Genocide’

According to sources who spoke with The Nation from Cameroun, some informants working for the regime, led by a former Ambazonian combatant called Nfor Marcel a.k.a. Bullet, assisted the military to identify one compound belonging to Ambazonians in Ngarbuh. The military invaded the family house and all the eight members, including the baby, were shot and killed instantly. The invading forces then went to the next houses and did same, setting them on fire.

“This is the most disheartening action and genocide, when civilians are targeted and killed in broad daylight simply because of their support and commitment to their country, Ambazonia.

“Paul Biya has done his worst, and this is time for every Ambazonian to stand up more than ever before to fight this barbaric regime and its genocidal network. Anyone who stays back from fighting for justice is worse than the terrorists themselves.

“This is the time to sacrifice our all and help stop this carnage. It could happen to anyone. The eight-month-old child did not commit any crime and should be given justice,” a witness who craved anonymity said.

Another witness said the invading forces killed 23 people in the Mbam incident – three men, six women and 14 children.

“Out of the 14 children, 11 were of primary school age. Three were still sucking. Some even said to a few people who were not killed that the attack was just the beginning. Some were burnt and those who struggled to run were shot. As for the burial, some villagers helped by some combatants buried the victims yesterday (February 14) as the military left.

“As for the names, I know only of one man called Seka and another boy called Pa Alidu and one lady by name Moaisha. Now as I am talking, some villagers are still fleeing following the threats they received from the military to leave within 72 hours,” a villager said.

The death toll has increased to 32 with more bodies being discovered in the bushes.
Outrage Over Global Inaction On Cameroon ‘Genocide’
Outrage Over Global Inaction On Cameroon ‘Genocide’

According to residents, similar massacres happened in a village called Kikaikom, in Bui Division, North West Region between January 24 and 26.

The planned local and legislative elections in the area that were rejected by Anglophone activist groups that are demanding autonomy for the region is the source of the upsurge in the current violence.

Condemnations by the UN, rights groups, media trail silence

Cameroonian activists said it was embarrassing that the UN, international human rights groups, the Nigerian and international media were not reporting the carnage.

But a UN worker, James Nunan, said an attack happened in Ntumbo, a village in northwestern Cameroon on penultimate Friday. Nunan told CNN that an unspecified number of residents were injured, including a pregnant woman. He added that at least 600 villagers have since fled the area.

Cameroonian activist and human rights lawyer, Felix Agbor Nkongho from the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, confirmed to the CNN that the death toll from February 14 attacks has risen to 32.“The military officers responsible for these heinous crimes must be brought to justice,” he said.

Amnesty International also reported that Cameroonian soldiers executed women, young girl and a baby during the attacks.

Cameroon govt reacts

Cameroon Ministry of Defence spokesman Atonfack Guemo disputed the figures, saying only a woman and four children were killed in the crossfire between security forces and the separatists during an attack.

He explained that a team of six soldiers engaged the separatist fighters in an area, killing seven of them. He added that the fighting continued into the night and fuel containers hit by gunfire exploded, causing a blaze that spread through homes.

“This caused the death of five persons; a woman and four children, contrary to social media reports,” he said.

He also denounced “an act of inhuman cruelty which certain propagandists and activists attribute to the armed groups and the defence forces,” and which “is said to have resulted in the death of several people, including women and children.”

The government also announced the immediate opening of an investigation on the subject by the gendarmerie and military security, the conclusions of which will be widely disseminated.

UN Secretary-General, Commonwealth condemn killing of civilians

A statement by the spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, which condemned the killings, said: “The Secretary-General is deeply concerned over reports about the killing of civilians, including children, in an attack on the village of Ngarbuh in the north-west Region of Cameroon on 14 February. He extends his deepest condolences to the families and calls on the Government of Cameroon to conduct an investigation and to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.

“The Secretary-General calls on armed actors to refrain from attacks against civilians and to respect international humanitarian and international human rights law. He reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to work with all stakeholders towards a political solution to the crisis in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon through meaningful dialogue.”

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland also called for an impartial investigation into the incident.

The statement, which was signed by Scotland’s media aide Temitope Kalejaiye, quoted the Secretary-General as saying: “I strongly condemn the recent killings of civilians, including women and children in the North-West of Cameroon on February 14, 2020.

“We noted the government’s announcement that there would be a full investigation into the incident. We encourage the government to conduct an impartial investigation, for perpetrators to be held accountable and for results to be made public.

The Commonwealth strongly condemns all forms of violence, and in particular, the loss of lives of innocent civilians including women and children.

“Cameroon is a noted member of the Human Rights Council and as such, we are minded of General Comment 13 to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to freedom from all forms of violence which is underscored by the understanding that no violence against children is justifiable, all violence against children is preventable.

“I continue to convey these concerns to the government of Cameroon, and the Commonwealth stands ready to support solutions that will address the root causes of this conflict.”

History of the crisis

The crisis started in 1961 when the region then known as Southern Cameroon, a UN Trust Territory that was hitherto administered as part of Eastern Nigeria, voted in a UN organised plebiscite to join the then Republic of Cameroun.

A Nigerian lawyer, Abdul Oroh, who joined human rights activists, Femi Falana, in defending some Ambazonian separatist leaders, who were first detained in Nigeria before being sent to Cameroon for trial gave an insight into the issue. He explained that the activists in the current crisis said they actually requested for three options before the conduct of the plebiscite. One was to remain in Nigeria; two, to join Cameroon and third, to be an independent country. Oroh said the last option was not included as part of the options for voters.

Oroh added that those who voted that the Southern Cameroons should joined Cameroon won and thus the country became known as the Federal Republic of Cameroon, operating a federal system of two states, and adopted English and French as its official languages.

This historical development, he noted, conferred upon the country a bi-jural legal system and bilingual status, making the country a unique experience in Africa and compared only to Canada.

He explained that over the years, the inability of the state to manage the regional and linguistic diversity has been a source of tension and violence. The political manoeuvers leading to the plebiscite and its outcome, Oroh said, also constituted a significant part of the seeds of today’s agitations.

A document compiled by the West Africa Early Warning and Early Response Network, entitled, Cameroon, Conspiracy of Silence or Feigned Indifference”, also claimed that “the political developments that resulted in the systematic marginalisation and attempts to subjugate the English-speaking entity, including the geopolitics of ‘arbitrary change of names’, partly contributed to the current crisis”.

The document made available to The Nation by UN diplomats from New York stated: “This was preceded by a number of calculated political moves to undermine the Federal Constitution that brought the two entities together. These include the institution of a unitary state, and subsequently the abolition of the United Republic in 1984 by a unilateral executive decision by President Paul Biya, who has monopolised power in Cameroon for 36 years.”

The current crisis came to a peak in 2016 when trade unions, including teachers, lawyers and other interest groups demanded reversals of policy decisions by the Cameroon Government, which seem to undermine the Anglo-Saxon system inherited at independence. These decisions, according to the ‘protesters’, were deliberate attempts to ‘Francophonise’ English-speaking Cameroon. All this has been the source of recurrent protests and demonstrations, leading to the arrest and detention of protesters, including teachers and lawyers by the security operatives.

In addition to this, the leaders and leaders of Southern Cameroons have also been charged with treason, using anti-terrorism laws that were recently passed to curb the Boko Haram insurgency, Oroh said.

Also on October 1, 2017, thousands of people from the former Southern Cameroons came out to proclaim what was referred to as “the restoration of their independence”. This proclamation was in response to the alleged marginalisation and mistreatment of the people from the affected region as ”second-class citizens” by the dominant French-speaking Cameroon.

The interventions of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs), especially those based in the French-speaking side of the country, brought the widespread human rights abuses by the Cameroonian security forces to global attention.

Protests have been met with stiff resistance from the state security apparatus, resulting in deaths, injuries and mass displacement of people. The actual number of casualties remained unknown.

Jailing of separatist leaders

Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe is an Ambazonian separatist leader and the first president of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia. His presidency started with Ambazonia’s unilateral declaration of independence on October 1, 2017, with Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front (SCACUF) forming the Interim Government of Ambazonia.

Before this declaration, a separatist war between Ambazonian militias and Cameroonian security forces had been raging for weeks. At first, Tabe and the Interim Government rejected the idea of an armed struggle, preferring instead to focus on civil disobedience and a diplomatic campaign to gain international recognition.

After Tabe and other Ambazonian leaders were arrested in Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon in January 2018, Samuel Ikome Sako was announced interim president a month later.

Oroh said on August 20, 2019, Tabe and the other nine leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment by the Yaoundé Military Tribunal, despite the fact that a Nigeria court had declared that their forceful repatriation from Nigeria to Cameroon was illegal. Having expected this outcome, the separatists were singing in court while the sentence was pronounced.

Biya’s National Dialogue

In an attempt to end the crisis, Biya called for talks dubbed the National Dialogue.

But Tabe dismissed the Major National Dialogue outright, stating that “Paul Biya does not have the power to determine the fate of Ambazonia.” He did, however, welcome the release of a separatist, Maurice Kamto, following the dialogue.

The National Dialogue made a series of proposals, which include: the adoption of a special status for the two Anglophone regions; the restoration of the House of Traditional Chiefs; the election of local governors; the immediate re-launch of certain airport and seaport projects in the two regions, the rapid integration of ex-combatants into society; the name of the country be returned to former name, the United Republic of Cameroon and implementation of law that government officials declare their assets in order to tackle corruption – a key request of the separatists, owing alleged reckless corruption in Biya’s government.

The separatists and rights activists, however, claimed that instead of genuinely implementing the National Dialogue’s proposals, the Biya’s government is killing their members, families and sending millions into the bush and refugee camps in Nigeria and other neighbouring countries.

More Cameroonians flee into Nigeria over violence

Thousands of Cameroonians have fled into Nigeria in the last few weeks to escape clashes between the security forces and armed separatists, according to the United Nations (UN) refugee agency.

The latest arrivals are crossing the border into Taraba and Cross Rivers states, bringing the number of refugees to almost 60,000, a statement by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claimed.

“Refugees were reportedly fleeing from violence and some even arrived across the border with gunshot wounds,” it said.

“According to new arrivals, most come from areas near the border and have trekked across the savannah and forests to reach Nigeria.”

The UN estimates that more than 679,000 have been displaced from their homes. Refugees in Nigeria are “being sheltered in public schools and health facilities or with local families”, the UNHCR said.

About 51,000 registered refugees had been taken in by some 87 communities in four states, before the latest influx.

“In addition, there are four settlements where UNHCR and humanitarian partners are providing protection, food, livelihood, shelter and healthcare,” the statement said.

“Refugees also need support to become self-reliant,” said the UNHCR’s deputy representative in Nigeria, Roger Hollo.

“With access to education, health services and labour markets, they can take care of their families and give back to the local communities hosting them,” Hollo added.

The onslaught continues

Emmanuel Visha, who is the Secretary-General of the Southern Cameroons Restoration Movement, a vanguard organisation for the Restoration of the statehood of the Southern Cameroons, in a phone interview with The Nation on Thursday, said: “Yesterday, the military, again with the support of some Fulanis, attacked and burnt villages in another village in Bui County.

“As of now, we don’t have the results of the damages done there. I am just reading now that 10 youths have just been killed in Bamenda. This is yet to be confirmed.”

The agitations by the people of Southern Cameroon are facing hurdles as their leaders, who are in the diaspora, are accused of corruption. Some freedom fighters have joined the Biya-government and are now accused of ditching information to the government.

With the international outcry over the killings in Southern Cameroons and lack of good coordination on the ground, the question in the minds of diplomats and rights activists is: “Who will stop the Biya carnage?”

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