Cameroon launched a crackdown after separatists declared an independent state in its two anglophone regions — Amnesty says the brutality of the operation is making matters worse. By ALEXIS HUGUET (AFP)
The government’s military response in two regions of Cameroon where English-speaking separatists are campaigning for an independent state has inflamed the crisis, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
In a 37-page report, the human-rights watchdog said it had catalogued “unlawful killings, destruction of private property, arbitrary arrests and torture” carried out by the security forces since late 2017.
“Far from resolving the crisis, the clampdown on any form of dissent and the heavy-handed response by the Cameroonian authorities and security forces appear to have empowered and created space for more radical and violent movements to emerge, with a focus on secession and armed struggle,” it said.
“The human rights violations committed by the Cameroonian security forces and authorities have also contributed to creating a pervasive climate of fear, which some observers say has led to a growing sense of alienation among communities in the anglophone regions.”
The unrest is unfolding in the Northwest and Southwest Regions — English-speaking territory once governed by colonial Britain that joined French-speaking Cameroon after it gained independence from France in 1960.
Anglophones today account for about a fifth of Cameroon’s population of 22 million.
But years of resentment at perceived discrimination, especially in education and the judiciary, have built up, sparking protests in October and November 2016.
The government’s reaction was harsh, then in late 2017, the violence escalated further after radicals declared an independent state — an entity that has not been recognised internationally — and launched an armed campaign.
Amnesty said it had conducted interviews with more than 150 victims of, or eyewitnesses to, violence committed either by the security forces or by separatists.
Among the incidents, it said, was “the complete destruction” of the village of Kwakwa in the Southwest Region in December last year.
It was burned to the ground by the security forces after suspected separatists killed two gendarmes, it said.
In the village of Dadi, at least 23 people, including minors and two men with mental disabilities, were detained for three days last December and were tortured, using sticks, electric shocks, guns or ropes, it said. At least one died after being transferred to Buea central prison, it said.
“As a result of these security operations and the consequent violence, over 150,000 people became internally displaced and more than 20,000 fled to Nigeria where they are living in remote locations, requiring humanitarian support,” it said.
Cameroonian authorities characterise the separatists as “terrorists” and accuse them in turn of attacks on police and troops and carrying out abductions and acts of intimidation.
Amnesty, addressing this question, said separatists had killed “at least” 44 members of the security forces, and also targeted ordinary people, including traditional chiefs, whom they suspected to be informants.
At least 42 schools have been attacked, two of which were seriously damaged by arson, it said.
At a press conference in the Senegalese capital Dakar on Monday to launch the report, Amnesty researcher Ilaria Allegrozzi said civilians were trapped in the middle.
“The population is caught… between the hammer and the anvil, between the violations of human rights and crimes committed by the security forces, and by the violence of the armed separatists, who are also attacking ordinary civilians.”
Last month, the US ambassador in Yaounde, Peter Barlerin, sparked a diplomatic furore by saying the armed forces had carried out “targeted killings.” He also said the separatists had carried out murders of gendarmes and other acts of violence.
According to the International Crisis Group think-tank, at least 120 civilians and 43 members of the security forces have been killed since the end of 2016.
The UN says 160,000 people have been internally displaced and 20,000 sought refuge in neighbouring Nigeria.