Amnesty International warned on Thursday “a surge in violence meted out by the Cameroon military since recent weeks, has led to dozens of killings and thousands of new displacements in several areas across the Anglophone regions, ahead of parliamentary elections due to take place on Sunday 9 February”.
Amnesty International said its remote sensing analysis confirmed the burning of more than 50 houses in Babubock and neighbouring villages of Bangem in the South-West around 14 January, adding that the destructions by the army, including killings of villagers, are serious human rights violations.
“The security measures and increased military presence announced by the Cameroonian government to ensure this weekend’s vote can take place, appear to have been a pretext for a much more sinister operation,” said Fabien Offner, Amnesty International Lake Chad Researcher.
“In recent weeks, brutal military operations have been conducted while crimes committed by armed separatists continue unabated. Civilians are finding themselves trapped in a spiral of violence. The authorities should take all necessary measures to protect the population and investigate these human rights violations and abuses.”
Since the 23 December 2019 armed separatists’ announcement challenging the decision of the elections to take place, Amnesty International said it has documented a pattern of unlawful killings by the army in the Anglophone regions.
Villages destroyed and killings by the military
On 23 January, the village of Ndoh in the South-West region was attacked. Following reports of the killing of a soldier in the area on 22 January, a group of soldiers described by one eyewitness attacked the village market and started shooting indiscriminately.
Amnesty International had the confirmation that bodies of 14 men were found after the attack, and two others two days later in the area. At least five people were wounded by gun shots, among whom a 14-year-old boy who received a bullet in the abdomen, and another 17-year-old boy who was shot in the thigh.
Amnesty International also received information from a man explaining his 30 years-old son was shot dead on 23 January as he was running away inside the bush. In January, several villages were destroyed in the South-West region. Amnesty International’s analysis of remote sensing data shows fires present in North-West of Bangem on 14 January. Later, satellite imagery from 20 January confirms that more than 50 houses in Babubock and neighbouring villages were burned to the ground during a military operation around 14 January 2020.
A humanitarian worker has also been arrested by heavily armed military men wearing uniforms of the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR in French) on 24 December 2019. Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International he was brought to a police station and later found dead on 2 January 2020 in a road, his body presenting evidence of torture and gunshot wounds to the head.
Crimes by the armed separatists
Armed separatists continue to commit serious crimes, including killings, abductions and extorsions.
On 30 January, four staffs of a humanitarian organisation were abducted by an armed separatist group, which accused them of working for the government. They were released a day later after three of them were beaten and subjected to psychological torture, according to the organisation. On 15 January, a young man was killed, and his father injured near Bamenda (North-West), as they tried to avoid checkpoints held by armed separatists.
On 3 December 2019, three people including a doctor were abducted by armed separatists between the village of Bambili and the town of Bamenda (North-West). Abductors started asking for a ransom of 5000 euros before reducing it to 100 euros. Before their release, the persons were blindfolded, and guns pointed at them while they were yelling.
Armed separatists have also asked aid workers to stop their activities during the 6 to 11 February 2020 planned lockdown they have ordered in the Anglophone regions. Only Emergency health services can continue with their activities during this period.
Increase in the number of displaced people
The violence led to an increase in the number of forcibly displaced persons. As of December 2019, there were 679,000 displaced persons in Cameroon and 52,000 refugees in Nigeria who fled from the Anglophone regions, according to humanitarian organizations. However, Cameroon Minister of territorial Administration denied the existence of a crisis and said in December 2019 that only 152,000 persons were displaced from the Anglophone regions.
“For more than three years now, people in the Anglophone regions have been caught in the violence between the military and armed groups. This crisis cannot be ignored by the authorities responsible to protect the population,” said Fabien Offner.”
“It’s time for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to establish and carry out a fact-finding mission into all allegations of human rights violations and abuses committed in the Anglophone regions since 2016.”