In recent years, many authoritarian governments have applied broad definitions of terrorism to any form of political dissent, objective journalism, and the right of every person to criticize its own government. This is what is happening in Cameroon right now.
Nearly 700,000 people have been displaced, 3.9 million are in need of humanitarian support and several thousand have been killed in Cameroon, as a result of three crises (the insurgency of the armed group Boko Haram, the widening conflict between the government and armed separatists who are demanding greater freedoms and autonomy, and the culture of impunity that has been created by the 38-year administration of Cameroonian President Paul Biya).
In all of these crises, the Cameroonian security forces have been responsible for egregious, systematic human rights abuses including torture, extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detention. In the Far North as part of the counter insurgency against Boko Haram, security forces destroyed villages and livelihoods, and committed extrajudicial executions, torture and arbitrary detention. In the Anglophone region, Cameroonian security forces have committed egregious and systematic human rights violations, including unlawful killings, destruction of private property, arbitrary arrests and torture. Similarly, individuals have been arrested arbitrarily for exercising their human right to freedom of expression. President Biya has used the security forces to crush any form of political dissent and has employed a counter terrorism framework to justify his tactics and shield his security forces from accountability, yet? continues to receive military aid and cooperation from some western governments and neighboring countries like Nigeria.
As 2020 draws to a close, the people of Cameroon will face 2021 with a worsening humanitarian crisis; the number of people in need of urgent assistance has increased from 3.9 million in early 2020 to 6.2 million since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government is using the same tactics in the Anglophone regions as it has employed in against Boko Haram in the Far North, which has displaced persons and worsened food insecurity. With little accountability for abuses and no signs of any willingness to change tactics or address the underlying drivers of the unrest in the anglophone regions from the government, the international community must press the government and the armed separatists groups to respect human rights and allow unimpeded humanitarian access. Cameroon’s security allies must pause their military support for the Biya administration until an independent, credible investigation can be conducted and those found responsible for abuses are held accountable. Military aid should be conditioned on the cessation of these abuses.
Currently pending in the U.S. Senate is a resolution introduced by Senators Risch and Cardin (S. Res. 684) which attempts to address some of these problems in Cameroon. This Resolution does not address the crisis in the far north but it is a good start in the right direction towards accountability in Cameroon.