In yet another unsettling report, the New York-based rights organization; Human Rights Watch has today detailed shocking military exactions as Cameroun prosecutes its war against pro-independence movements in former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons.
The report says at least eight people were killed in December 2021 with scores of homes –at least 35 homes, razed by the military.
Illaria Allegrozzi of Human Rights Watch says many of those killed were children and accused the military of paying scant attention to the sanctity of human life.
“The dead included three children, two women, and an older man,” the report states.
“Cameroon’s security forces have again shown disregard for human life during their recent operations in the North-West region,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The killings of civilians, including children, are serious crimes that should be credibly and independently investigated, and those responsible held to account.”
The report cites victims, whose stories are as revealing of the monstrosity of the military response as they are chilling,
“I lost my entire house, and I am now homeless,” the report cites a 55-year-old trader who lived on Mbengwi Road.
“I saw up to 30 soldiers, including from the BIR Rapid Intervention Unit). They were shooting and burning. In my home, everything was burned: all the kitchen stuff, books, mattresses, chairs, tables, clothes, bed sheets, blankets. They burned room by room.”
A 34-year-old woman, whose home and food shop were burned by soldiers, said: “I was in my shop when the soldiers started coming at around 4 p.m. I heard shooting. I saw more than 20 soldiers on foot. They were shooting at random and burning everything along their way. I decided to escape. I ran as fast as I could and hid in a nearby home. I was worried because my two children, 7 and 5 years old, were at home. Then, I sought shelter at my aunt’s home.
The following day, when I went back to Mbengwi road, I found that my shop had been completely burned and my home partially burned. I managed to reunite with my children, and they told me that the military set the room on fire while they were still inside. Neighbors rescued them. I can’t believe my children could have been burned alive.”
Repeated attempts by Timescape Magazine to get the military comment on this fresh development have been futile, but the Military spokesperson, Col. Cyrille Serge Atonfack Guemo in a statement denied that the military had killed civilians and burnt homes.
He claimed instead that a pro-independence movement’s warehouse storing “components used in making improvised explosive devices” exploded “during the gun battle,” causing “a shock wave on a few nearby houses.” He also said that an investigation had been opened into “the unfortunate incident.”
But since engaging separatist fighters (who prefer to be called restorationists) in battle since 2017 when the long-simmering Anglophone problem burst into open warfare, both government soldiers and separatists have been accused of gross rights violations.
Pro-independence movements have also been faulted for killing those who disagree with their self-determination agenda, kidnapping people for ransom, burning markets and schools, and enforcing a school boycott that denies children their fundamental right to education.
Over 4,000 (some rights groups put the figure at nearly 12,000) people have been killed so far in five years of fighting, as the military fights to keep the country undivided and pro-independence movements swearing, they will break away to form a new nation they call “Ambazonia.”
More than a million people have been forced to flee from their homes in the regions, with nearly 70,000 finding refuge in neighboring Nigeria.
It all started with strikes by Anglophone teachers and lawyers in 2016 over what they perceived were deliberate efforts by the predominantly francophone administration in Yaounde to annihilate the Common Law and Education systems practiced in the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons.
The government responded with lethal force, leading to the growth of non-state armed groups who began pushing for what they called the “restoration of the independence of the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons.”
But what happened in 2016 was decades in the making.
Cameroon was a former German colony divided between Britain and France after World War I. The French-administered part of the country gained independence in 1960 and became known as La République du Cameroun. The English-speaking part of Cameroon gained independence a year later but reunited with the French part to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon.
However, the federation became a unitary state in 1972, and the current president, Paul Biya removed the word “United” from the country’s official name in 1984.
The changes in name, according to Southern Cameroonians, meant that citizens of the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons had been assimilated. But the changes in the name were just part of the problem. Decades of marginalization and neglect of the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons lie at the core of the problem.