- Campaigns For Prosecution, Sanctioning Of Rogue Fighters
By Hope Nda
A new report Human Rights Watch, HRW, released on Monday, June 27, has chronicled several cases of human rights abuses Ambazonia fighters in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions have committed against civilians.
The report details at least 22 individual incidents perpetrated between January and June 2022, during which separatist fighters “killed at least seven people, injured six others, raped a girl, and committed other grave human rights abuses”.
HRW says the Amba boys also burned at least two schools in the Southwest Region, attacked the University of Bamenda, kidnapped up to 82 people – including 33 students and five teachers – and threatened and beat 11 students.
“Armed separatist groups are kidnapping, terrorising, and killing civilians across the English-speaking regions with no apparent fear of being held to account by either their own leaders or Cameroonian law enforcement,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Central Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The HRW report comes after some instances of retaliation by the population against separatists’ abuses. Earlier this year, people were seen in videos protesting against separatist atrocities, notably in Mbalangi (Southwest Region) and in Oku and Ngie (Northwest Region).
Attacks On Education
Separatists have been enforcing a school boycott agenda in the Northwest and Southwest since 2016, when the current crisis began. Since then, more than 3,000 schools have remained locked down across the two regions, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, said in a report published in March this year.
With several schools burnt, scores of students and teachers killed, injured or threatened and others forced to relocate to safer zones; education has been in crisis in the Anglophone regions, despite an improvement in school attendance this year.
HRW’s findings indicate the school closures have persisted because of numerous separatists’ attacks on education. They have attacked at least five schools in the Anglophone regions since January. One of the cases HRW cites, which was widely condemned, was the burning of Queen of the Holy Rosary College, an all-girls dormitory school in Okoyong, Mamfe, Southwest Region.
Separatist fighters torched the school on February 11, because its students were allegedly planning to participate in Youth Day celebrations, which were to hold that day. Although the Vice President of the Ambazonia Interim Government, Dabney Yerima, claimed responsibility and promised to “disarm rogue fighters” who committed the act, it remains clear, months later, that “rogue fighters” are still very much armed across the English-speaking regions.
Another attack on education, as reported by Human Rights Watch, was on the University of Bamenda. Separatists are said to have stormed the campus at Bambili on April 5, shooting in the air, causing panic among students and teachers and triggered a stampede that injured at least five people.
Many teachers in the Anglophone regions are now trapped between separatists’ anti-school injunctions and obeying the government’s (their employer) call for them to resume duty – even when there are no students to teach – or get fired.
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On January 19, HRW reported, about seven separatist fighters attacked Government High School Weh, Northwest Region, and abducted five teachers “for not complying with the separatist-ordered school boycott and for not contributing financially to their struggle for independence”.
In further attacks on schools, a group of separatist fighters, on January 12, attacked Government High School Bokova and, on February 7, they burned down a classroom at Government Practicing School Molyko Group 1.
Killing Of Civilians
HRW records the killing of at least seven civilians by separatist fighters since January this year, some of whom the separatists admitted they killed “mistakenly”. Such was the case of Jenette Sweyah Shey, a 46-year-old nurse of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services (CBCHS) who was shot on February 6 at Mile 90 checkpoint on a few kilometres from Bamenda, Northwest Region.
“They [separatist fighters] shot at the windscreen of the first vehicle. The bullet went through and hit Jenette in the forehead. She died as we rushed her to the hospital,” a CBHS nurse who survived the attack told HRW.
One May 30, separatist fighters also killed one Lukong Francis, a retired teacher at Government High School Jakiri, Northwest Region, for marching during the Nation Day celebration on May 20.
In the Southwest Region, separatists also shot and killed two men, including a 30-year-old male taxi driver at Bwitingi market area in Buea on January 12, and shot a lawyer in his legs and stomach same day around the same area.
In addition to the killings, separatist fighters are said to have committed several counts of kidnapping of civilians, including lawyers and teachers, usually in exchange for ransom or to warn them against their disobedience of separatist instructions.
On April 7, armed separatists kidnapped 33 seminary students for ransom in Bachuo-Ntai, Southwest Region, and on May 29, fighters in the Northwest Region kidnapped Valentine Velieh Yenshia, a 54-year-old male lawyer, from his farm in Babanki, said HRW.
Senator Regina Mundi was also one of the victims of such kidnappings but, fortunately, she was freed by the military on May 31, after spending one month in one of the hideouts of the Ambazonia Defence Forces, ADF, in the Northwest Region.
Holding Perpetrators Accountable
In the battle for victory between soldiers and separatist groups in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions, the greatest loser has been the civilian population and the country as a whole.
Civilian lives taken by either the military or separatists have hardly been accounted for. Both parties would rather trade blames in instances where no clear perpetrator of rights abuses has been established, rather than opening independent investigations. In cases where the perpetrator has been named, justice is hardly seen to have been done.
According to Human Rights Watch, no party guilty of any human rights abuse should go unpunished. “Leaders of separatist groups should immediately instruct their fighters to stop abusing civilians and hand over abusive fighters for prosecution,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi.
She further said these fighters should be held accountable for trampling “on the basic rights of an already terrorised civilian population”.
Allegrozzi also said “Cameroon’s regional and international partners should intensify calls on the Cameroonian government for accountability, and better protection of civilians.
“They should also impose targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, on separatist leaders who bear responsibility for committing abuses.”