People caught in the crossfire as multiple actors clash; Defence and security forces, militias, and armed separatists responsible for killings, rapes and burning down of houses; The Mbororo Fulani community targeted by armed separatists; Individuals who speak out against these atrocities are being threaten and arbitrarily detained.
Cameroonian authorities must act to end the violence against the population and conduct thorough investigations into the killings, acts of torture, rapes, burning of houses and other atrocities committed in the Anglophone regions, said Amnesty International today in a damning new report that details rampant human rights violations and other crimes under domestic law committed by multiple actors in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon.
The report, With or against us: the population caught between the army, armed separatists and militias in north-west Cameroon, exposes crimes committed by armed separatists, militias and members of the defence and security forces in the North-West region, mainly since 2020. It also highlights the urgent need for protection for those denouncing the atrocities inflicted upon the population.
“We call on Cameroonian authorities to investigate allegations of human rights violations and other crimes under domestic law committed in the context of the armed violence in the Anglophone regions, and to prosecute and punish those responsible for such violations in fair trials and before independent, impartial, and competent tribunals. Victims of these crimes and violations have a right to justice and reparation,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
The Anglophone crisis resulted from the repressive response to largely peaceful protests in 2016-2017, which demanded an end to the marginalization of the Anglophone minority. It has since escalated into a situation of armed violence in the North-West and South-West regions, leaving the population caught up in the fighting of various actors. There is now extreme suffering and loss of life.
Amnesty International conducted two visits to Cameroon between November 2022 and March 2023. The organization met with more than 100 victims, representatives of NGOs, journalists, and commissioners of the Cameroon Human Rights Commission (CHRC). Requests for meetings with government ministers were met with silence.
“They shot my wife and burned her along with my two children”
Amnesty International’sreport meticulously documents the serious crimes committed by armed separatists against the population, with a particular focus on those committed against the Mbororo Fulani community in the North-West.
In one instance, on the night of 28 March 2022, armed separatists attacked a Mbororo Fulani compound in the village of Mbokop-Tanyi. Amnesty International met with the husband and father of the three victims. He said: “The Amba Boys [the collective term for the armed separatists] burned down my house, with two of my children and my wife inside. They shot my wife and when she was down, they burned her along with my two children, aged seven years and six months, who were sleeping in the house.”
Discriminatory and inflammatory rhetoric targeting the Mbororo Fulani has appeared on social media. In an interview shared by a separatist media network on Facebook, a separatist leader said: “What is wrong with an Ambazonian killing a Mbororo who is an aggressor? He moved into Ambazonia from another country, into our territory. And you [they] attack our people and you [they] kill them, burn their homes, and destroy their farmlands. If we are able to kill them all, we will kill them all, and there will be no regret.”
Mbororo Fulani militias have also been involved in killings and the destruction of homes in the North-West region, in some instances at least with the help or the complacency of Cameroonian troops. A group of approximately 45 armed people described as Fulani, Haoussa and Aku, accompanied by Cameroonian soldiers, killed at least five villagers and destroyed at least 13 homes in the village of Gheidze on 18 October 2021, according to four people interviewed by Amnesty International. The militias were armed with cutlasses, sticks, spears, and knives, while the soldiers had guns. They burned down the houses while soldiers were shooting in their air and guarding the area.
Amnesty International’s report also highlights grave human rights violations perpetrated by the defence and security forces in the North-West division of Bui. According to testimonies of displaced victims in Bafoussam and Douala, crimes included extrajudicial killings, rapes, and other sexual violence against women.
One victim said: “On 3 September 2021, they came to the village and started committing atrocities. When I saw them, I quickly grabbed my daughter, and we went into the house. We closed the door, but they broke it down. They started to search the house and asked my husband to lie down… A military man raped me there.”
“Then they took me and my daughter. They put us in a vehicle and set fire to the house. They took us to their base. There were six other women…The youngest was 12. We were there for two months and two weeks. Every day they [military men] raped us, one after the other,”she added.
Suspicions surrounding the use of foreign weapons by separatists
Amnesty International report also examines military cooperation between Cameroon and its international partners, focusing on the origins and diversion of weapons. The organization identified several weapon types in propaganda videos posted on social media by armed separatist groups, which suggests that some weapons used in the commission of crimes against the population were stolen from the Cameroonian army that obtained them through foreign assistance.
“We urge Cameroon’s international partners, including the governments of France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Croatia, Israel, Russia, Serbia, and the USA to carry out rigorous human rights risk assessments before sending further arms and to conduct end-use monitoring to ensure that military assistance does not contribute to further human rights abuses,” said Samira Daoud.
“Where there is credible evidence that arms are being diverted to armed groups accused of committing serious crimes, the provision of such military assistance must be suspended until measures are put in place to ensure all transfers are secure and arms are being used responsibly by authorized end-users.”
The authorities’ arbitrary judicial response
The response to the crisis from political and judicial authorities has, so far, involved further human rights violations. Instead of genuinely investigating crimes by armed separatists, authorities have accused certain individuals denouncing atrocities of being armed separatists or supporters and have arbitrarily arrested and detained them. Meanwhile, the lack of transparency in investigations into crimes committed by armed forces raises concerns about impunity.
The authorities’ attempts to curb freedom of expression and the right to seek information have also exacerbated matters. The human rights defenders, activists, lawyers, and media organizations courageously denouncing atrocities committed by the defence, and security forces have faced judicial proceedings, arbitrary detentions, and threats. Some were also tried before military courts, although under international law these courts should never have jurisdiction over civilians.
Amnesty International’s report also raises deep concerns over the Cameroonian authorities’ failure to cooperate effectively with international and regional human rights institutions. Repeated requests for fact-finding missions have gone unanswered, hindering efforts to assess the situation and advocate for justice.
“The authorities must guarantee that arrests and detentions are carried out in line with international human rights law and standards, and must provide protection to journalists, human rights defenders, and activists who face threats,” Samira Daoud said.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Amnesty International.