The government of Cameroon has been accused of implementing a scorched earth policy in the management of the Anglophone conflict which involves the burning down of entire villages, killing of civilians and burning alive of human beings. The evidence is contained in a 68-page document recently released by a rights organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Even though the government has refuted all allegations, this latest report corroborates statements made by the U.S Ambassador to Cameroon, Amnesty International and famous human rights activist and former political detainee, Agbor Balla. Local journalists have also reported vastly on these issues and accused government forces of gross human rights abuses committed in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon.
In its description of the situation, HRW claimed the conflict which started in late 2016 was largely peaceful until when peaceful Anglophone protesters demanding more rights from the pro-Francophone government were met with brutal force from state security operatives. HRW argued that “excessive use of force and the unjustifiable use of firearms against mostly unarmed demonstrators, torture and ill-treatment of suspected separatists and other detainees and the burning of homes and property in several villages by government security forces” became the springboard for counter violence from armed Anglophones who hurriedly formed auto-defense units – “there are indications that the repression contributed to the radicalization of the pro-independence discourse and its supporters carried out more attacks.”
HRW accused Cameroonian security forces of killing civilians indiscriminately, burning down villages and in some cases roasting human beings alive in the pursuit of its policy to quell unrest among Anglophone activists and armed civilians, . To proof the veracity of its claim, HRW said it spoke to about 80 persons from these villages as well as used satellite images. “Through satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch assessed a total of 131 villages and was able to identify several hundred homes showing signs of destruction consistent with arson in 20 villages of the South-West region alone. Testimonies indicated that security forces were responsible for the burning,” the report stated, adding that “according to these same witnesses, four elderly women left behind during government operations in KwaKwa, Bole and Mongo Ndor and were reported burnt alive in their homes.”
HRW also accused armed Anglophone separatists of burning down schools in pursuit of their policy of ‘no school’ till they restored their statehood as well as attacking school administrators and security operatives. It however warned that the situation is getting worse by the day, a situation it argued could be avoided if the government calls for genuine dialogue. In this light, the rights body challenged the government to show proof of good faith in the management of the conflict by calling for a mediated negotiation with all groups including the Anglophone diaspora and armed groups. To both government and armed Anglophone separatists, HRW advised calling for a ceasefire and meeting on the negotiation table.
The conflict in Southern Cameroons has been dragging on since October 2016. It started from demands by Lawyers and Teachers of Anglophone origins for more rights and opportunities in the country. Government responded with force, arresting most of the leaders of the movement, torturing and killing some while others were forced into exile. On September 22nd and October 1st of that year, Anglophone activists organized mass demonstrations which were met with brutal force from soldiers sometimes using helicopter gunship on unarmed civilians. Local NGOs claimed about 130 persons were killed. Since then Anglophones in the diaspora and at home organized themselves and formed armed groups which started attacking soldiers and state representations in their areas. In response, government soldiers invaded these areas shooting indiscriminately, killing mostly civilians and burning down villages and human beings. The UN has reported that about 180,000 persons have been internally displaced while more than 50,000 are refugees in neighbouring Nigeria. According to CARE International Cameroon Office, about 3.5 million persons have been affected by the conflict. Pressure is mounting on the government to call for ceasefire and open negotiations but as of now, the government is still hesitant while the violence continues. In recent days, at least two Priests have been killed with many more attacked.
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