At Least 20 Killed As Violence In Cameroon Continues

On November 6th, a group of gunmen attacked a village in Cameroon, killing at least 20 people and injuring another 10. While no group has taken responsibility for the attack, it is believed to have been committed by a group of separatist Anglophones who have been actively trying to form an independent state (“Ambazonia”) in Western Cameroon.

The attack aligned with the 41st anniversary of President Paul Biya’s leadership, disrupting celebrations in what some believe to be an intentional motivation for the attack.

Following the chaos, a government official by the name of Viang Mekela claimed that the situation was now under control, advising the public not to panic and create more chaos. Mekela also announced that security forces are searching and surveilling the area in order to find those responsible for the attack.

The separatist movement comes out of apparent discrimination towards the English-speaking population (the majority of the Cameroonian population is French-speaking). Protests and riots against this discrimination began in 2016, and attacks and kidnappings such as November 6th’s have been occurring since 2017. Once the Cameroonian government and armed forces suppressed the protests, separatists turned to tactics implementing guerrilla warfare. Since the protests broke out, more than 6,000 lives have been taken.

Human rights organization Amnesty International spoke out earlier this year regarding the ongoing attacks in Cameroon, condemning both the extremists and separatists and the government’s military for their respective roles in the conflict, which have included brutal killings, rapes, torture, and the burning of houses in Anglophonic regions.

Acts of war, blatant violations of international law, and the use of violence (especially against non-military targets like ordinary civilians) are never an appropriate response, even to discrimination (which should also be addressed). Rather, using these violent tactics to achieve political goals should be widely condemned and regarded as the terrorism that it is. Although it is unfortunately not realistic in our current world for every conflict’s parties to co-operatively and non-violently seek solutions through negotiation, when groups do resort to violence, they must discriminate between combatants and noncombatant victims. Civilians who are not engaged in or actively participating in the conflict have not consented to being used as pawns to achieve a military advantage.

Both sides have eschewed peaceful negotiations working towards compromise and co-operation in favor of supporting a military solution to the conflict, which has now been continuing for six years. However, the violence has proven not to be an effective strategy for either side to produce political gains or advantages. As innocents continue to lose their lives with no resolution in sight, the government especially has been criticized for failing to find a valid solution. In September 2020, for example, despite Prime Minister Joseph Ngute’s support and advocacy for negotiations, the Cameroonian government remained divided on how to approach a solution to the conflict. The opposition to negotiation and co-operation thus allowed the conflict to churn on.

These strategies must be revisited to establish a solution to the conflict. As previously stated, violence, specifically the abuse of human rights and international humanitarian law, is not and never will be an appropriate response to political or ideological conflict within or between nations. Every civilian in Cameroon deserves to feel safe, as well as non-discriminated against, but the best approach to providing this does not include acts of violence.

Global audiences, especially powerful nations and organizations which can help to support a peaceful resolution, must also recognize these blatant violations of international law. Surrounding and allied nations have failed to take an active role in bringing the conflict to a close. Members of the African Union, for example, have either remained neutral or subtly supported the Cameroonian government. This is a position echoed by France, which has had a strong relationship with the nation since taking partial ownership of it after World War I. (French-owned Cameroon became independent in 1960.)

Alliances create relationships and dependency between nations, which can quickly deteriorate in times of conflict and tension. The conflict in Cameroon has led to damaged relationships with nearby nations and alliances, with negative effects on foreign policy, the international order, and domestic concerns. However, the influence of alliances – along with international organizations such as Amnesty International and the United Nations – have the ability to influence both the outcome of the conflict and the means used to achieve peace. The last major attempt at a resolution (and, in fact, one of the only instances of international involvement) came in June 2019, when Switzerland, which both parties recruited as a mediator, failed to bring about a resolution. This was far too long ago. By ignoring rather than addressing and supporting the violent conflict, those who have the power and resources to support peace are becoming active participants in the issue – allowing the violence against civilians to continue, potentially leading to even more devastating results.

Overall, the impacts of this internal conflict have been devastating, requiring both domestic and international support and co-operation to ensure civilian safety. Protecting innocents should be the first priority of every nation when those innocents have become targets of violent and senseless attacks. Rather than staying neutral or supporting one side’s continued violence, Cameroon’s allies must use their influence to bring the conflict to a peaceful close.

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