Gross human rights abuses are occurring in the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis, which on the surface is a conflict between minority anglophone groups in Cameroon and the majority francophone state, but in reality has much more complex drivers. DiA is proud to bring you an exclusive extract from a new report into the crisis from a research group at the University of Oxford, which includes important recommendations on how the international community should respond.
In 2016, anglophone lawyers and teachers protested perceived government-backed attempts to marginalise traditional practices within anglophone courts and schools. In response to the unrest, the Cameroonian Government was recorded to use coercion and force, which led to an escalation of tensions and demands. Since then, the conflict has become increasingly violent, and crimes have been committed by multiple parties.
A research group at the University of Oxford is investigating the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis. The first report from the research is now available, which provides a comprehensive analysis of alleged human rights abuses committed to date. The report draws attention to the role of the UK Government in the creation of the Anglophone Problem and calls for response.
Overview of Human Rights Abuses
The report includes an analysis of 400 pieces of footage received from the conflict in Cameroon. Each piece of data is logged and cross-analysed with credible human rights reports.
There is considerable material to indicate that human rights abuses have been committed by the Cameroonian State forces. Suspected violations include extra-judicial killings, destruction of property, arbitrary and illegal detention, sexual assault and rape, and torture, inhumane and degrading treatment. These violations breach both Cameroonian national laws and international human rights laws that bind Cameroon.
There is also substantial material to indicate that crimes have been committed by extremist fractions of separatist militants. These crimes include unlawful killings, severe violence against civilians, criminal damage, kidnappings, and preventing access to education.
The report details these human rights abuses in full.
Analysis of the human rights abuses leads the research group to note the following pressing concerns:
Escalation of the Anglophone Crisis: A historical view of the Anglophone Problem into the present indicates that the divisions instituted by the colonial boundary of the British and French Allied Forces have intensified over the decades and escalated into the current state of violence. Moreover, evidence received indicates that the levels of violence, degree of human rights abuses and resistance may be increasing.
Complexity of issues fueling the Anglophone Crisis: The conflict should not simply be seen through the simplistic lens of francophone versus anglophone, although these tensions are acute. In addition to the Cameroon State, there are various factions of anglophone resistance, and there is further evidence of organised vigilante community action. There are also underlying religious tensions, inter-ethnic group tensions and land tensions. Of note, the tensions in this conflict are deeply historical and have not been addressed to date. Failure to listen to these historical grievances risks fueling discontent and is likely to undermine the prospect of sustainable solution.
The inadequacy of the 2019 dialogue as an elite driven process: Despite the initiation of the September 2019 dialogue, there is evidence that human rights abuses continue. Further, the dialogue reflects a lack of group-level initiatives with affected communities and appears to be dominated by those in the upper echelons of Cameroonian socio-political life. Insufficient attention has been given to understand the views and experiences of the wider anglophone Cameroon public.
Lack of accountability for human rights abuses: There is a historic pattern of gross human rights violations, rejection of international human rights rulings and state impunity in Cameroon. There remains a pervasive culture of impunity through the lack of accountability for human rights abuses by Cameroonian State forces and armed separatist groups in the anglophone regions. Indicative of the accountability deficit is the rejection of, and the non-responses to, United Nations and African Union findings on the human rights abuses relating to the Anglophone Crisis.
Lack of remedies for human rights abuses: For those human rights abuses perpetrated since 2016, there is little evidence that remedial measures have been taken by the Cameroon State in the form of equal and effective access to justice; adequate, effective and prompt reparation for harm suffered; and reparation mechanisms.
Implications for conflict in the Sahel region: The failure to resolve the Anglophone Crisis may unintentionally exacerbate other conflicts within the Sahel region, including the fight against Boko Haram. This could lead to a further and significant deterioration of security and stability in the Sahel region.
Support efforts to stop the violence: For the international community to take appropriate measures to ensure an end to the human rights abuses. In this respect, the African Union’s strategy of ‘silencing the guns’, which aims to end all wars, civil conflicts, gender-based violence, violent conflicts and prevent genocide on the African continent, including in Cameroon, should be supported.
Support conflict resolution: For the international community to take an active role in supporting the peace negotiations between the francophone and anglophone parties, and to take deliberate steps to ensure minority voices and concerns are given fair treatment. This includes not preventing the remit of the dialogue and affording space for historical grievances to be considered so that the Anglophone Problem might finally find resolution. It is pertinent that the British Government adopt a decolonial approach in the conflict resolution process, which necessitates moving beyond surface-level engagement with the tensions.
Support the initiatives of peacebuilders: For the international community to support non-governmental organisations and researchers based in Cameroon to facilitate dialogue between communities and political actors and to support participatory efforts to reach long-term solutions for societal peace and reconciliation. While the September 2019 dialogue initiative by the Cameroonian Government is, in principle, a positive step, it is necessary to ensure dialogue is more participatory across the demographics and existing intersections of marginalisation in Cameroonian society.
Ensure a return to the rule of law: For the international community to work towards ensuring a return to the rule of law in Cameroon. It is the absence of meaningful legal accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses that have contributed to acts of retaliation and revenge by communities. These measures should include monitoring of criminal justice proceedings related to the Anglophone Crisis and ensuring that the right to a fair trial is respected, especially for anglophone minority defendants in light of the historic and ongoing abuses documented in this Report. Victims of human rights violations must be provided with appropriate remedies that include access to justice and reparations including compensation.
Monitor detention conditions: For the international community to monitor the conditions of imprisonment of individuals detained in relation to the Anglophone Crisis in order to safeguard against torture and inhumane and degrading treatment.
For further information, please see the full report.
Dr Roxana Willis, Postdoctoral Fellow of the British Academy and Junior Research Fellow in Law, University of Oxford
Joseph McAulay, Doctoral Candidate in Criminology, University of Oxford.
Ndjodi Ndeunyema, Doctoral Candidate in Law, University of Oxford, and Research Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub.
Dr James Angove, Researcher and Lecturer in Moral and Political Philosophy, University of Oxford.