Cameroon’s Deepening Humanitarian Crisis

On Tuesday 5th November, UNICEF announced that the humanitarian crisis in the northwest and southwest of Cameroon had increased 15-fold since 2017 and was now affecting 1.9 million civilians. Ongoing violence between government forces, anglophone insurgencies and an added layer of Boko Haram have resulted in 855,000 children being unable to attend school. According to the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, human rights violations, such as arbitrary arrests and indiscriminate killings of civilians, have been committed by both sides of the war. More than 200 villages have been destroyed, around 500,000 have been displaced and violence against women has been widely reported. Cameroon’s government has substantially failed its responsibilities under national and international law to respect, fulfil and protect the human rights of its citizens.

The response from the international community towards the violence of the governments’ response to the crisis has been largely muted for several reasons. Firstly, armed groups in the anglophone region have also terrorized the local population. Secondly, doing so may jeopardize the multinational task force, which includes the Cameroon government, which has been working in the north of the country to combat Boko Haram. The Norwegian Refugee Council has called Cameroon the worlds most neglected displacement crisis. On the 31st October, the Trump administration notified Congress that Cameroon would lose its eligibility status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

It’s the civilians trapped in the middle of a war they didn’t ask for who are the most vulnerable and who suffer the most. Silence from the international community means a continued enabling and prolongation of this regime in which the human rights of civilians continue to be broken. Lukewarm measures such as removing Cameroons eligibility status from the African Growth and Opportunity act will, as argued by critics, have minimal effect on Cameroon’s government to take action to stop the human rights abuses.

The roots of this crisis run deep and have colonial, political and economic origins. Insurgencies in prior British Cameroon have long since wanted independence from President Biya, who has been in office since 1982, and who has often ignored the national crisis which has occurred. Since 2016, there has been a sharp escalation of conflicts from these insurgencies which resulted in a violent and harsh response from the government. With Boko Harams resurgence in January 2019, further terror attacks on civilians in this region have escalated.

As opposed to international silence, the need to protect vulnerable civilians from human rights abuses needs to be at the forefront of all national and international decisions taken about Cameroon.  Outspoken and clear international pressure is needed to encourage the government to work towards peace and to end the human rights abuses currently occurring. Internationally, this means increased pressure on President Biya to take necessary political reforms and to engage in peace talks with opposing groups. Nationally, this means President Biya acknowledging the extent of suffering and human rights abuses done by its security forces and bringing the perpetrators accountable. It is not fair that civilians in Cameroon are losing their lives or that children are losing their education. Taking these actions has the potential to reduce their suffering and enable citizens with the chance to try and rebuild their lives again.

Devyani Gajjar