Cameroon: US Senate Slams Biya Gov’t, Recommends Targeted Sanctions against Regime Barons over Atrocity Crimes in Southern Cameroons

On New Year day 2021, Members of the U.S Senate passed a bipartisan instrument, RES. 684 “Calling on the Government of Cameroon and separatist armed groups from the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions to end all violence, respect the human rights of all Cameroonians, and pursue a genuinely inclusive dialogue toward resolving the ongoing civil conflict in Anglophone Cameroon”. The resolution was passed just a day after President Paul Biya in an address to the Cameroon nation claimed that the situation in the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons was under control, hailing measures that have simply been brushed aside.

Resolution 684, unlike other resolutions passed by the 116th US Congress, goes beyond just condemning the numerous atrocity crimes highlighted in the State Department Human Rights Report on Cameroon. The Senators clearly instruct and empower the State Department to, in concert with other relevant agencies, move into action. The resolution also calls on the global community to join hands in taking stringent and targeted actions against the government of Cameroon and ‘separatist leaders’ found committing atrocities, to force both parties to the negotiating table.

The resolution in its article 6 reads: “urges the Department of State, Department of Treasury, and United States Agency for International Development, in coordination with other relevant Federal departments and agencies to…consider imposing targeted sanctions on individual government and separatist leaders “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights”.

The Senators also recommend that the US Government “…continue to limit security assistance to Cameroon and ensure that United States training, and equipment is not being used to facilitate rights abuses in the Northwest and Southwest regions…prioritize efforts to help develop and sustain effective, professional civilian oversight of law enforcement and security services in Cameroon to ensure they are held accountable for abuses…”

In recognition of the fact that it would require a concerted effort on the international scene to pressure Cameroon to the negotiating table, the Senators recommend for the State Department to “Join in a strategic collective effort to pressure the Government of Cameroon and separatist armed groups, including through the use of available punitive tools, to immediately conclude and uphold a ceasefire, participate in an inclusive and meaningful dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict and pending grievances, and seek nonviolent solutions to the conflict, including by possibly involving an independent and credible mediator”.

In unambiguous terms, the US Senators chastise their own international ally, France, for failing to play a greater role in fostering a global response to the conflict.

“…France maintains considerable interests in Cameroon, including significant economic and security cooperation, but has not adequately used its influence to stem atrocities committed in the Anglophone regions or support stronger international action to seek resolution to the conflict,” the Senate Resolution highlights.

Some of the victims of the Ngarbuh massacre (C) Kiffasblog

The Senators push further by encouraging the State Department to “…leverage bilateral relationships to encourage key partners of Cameroon, particularly France, to help foster a peaceful resolution to the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon and implement a mutually agreed-upon program to address longstanding grievances and marginalization; and use regional and international fora, including the African Union, the Economic Community of Central African States, and the United Nations Security Council to discuss the ongoing crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon and push for a cessation of violence, an expedient resolution, and the implementation of a mutually agreed-upon program for addressing the root causes…”

In an address to the Cameroonian nation Thursday, December 31, 2020, Mr. Biya said: “…our Government has continued to demonstrate its commitment to openness and dialogue by, for example, releasing many former secessionists and facilitating their reintegration into society…Furthermore, after the Major National Dialogue, the Government fast-tracked the implementation of an ambitious decentralization policy which includes a special status for our North-West and South-West Regions, which takes into account their specificities and aspirations”.

This posturing appears not to have resonated with the international community that believes the national dialogue organized to address the conflict was hasty, not inclusive, ill-targeted and that its resolutions did not speak to the ‘specificities and aspirations’ of the people as claimed.

In line with that understanding, the US Senators mention the need for an internationally mediated negotiation on the root causes of the conflict three times in the 15-page resolution. This can be seen in articles 2 (D), 4 (A) and 5 (A), all highlighting the importance of examining the core issues during an impartial set-up where none of the parties, towers over the other. Overwhelmingly, Southern Cameroonians have identified the botched decolonization process conducted by the British and the United Nations in 1961 and marked by a ‘biased’ referendum with only two options as the root cause of the decades-long conflict.

Another claim Mr. Biya made, relating to the release of political prisoners did not also go well with the US lawmakers. Thus, their call for the government of Cameroon to “Immediately cease human rights abuses, including killings of civilians, torture, kidnapping, and extortion; immediately end the school boycott in the Northwest and Southwest regions and attacks on schools, teachers, and education officials, and allow for the safe return of all students to classes; the release of all prisoners arrested within the framework of the conflict…”

Charles Wesco (L) US Missionary brutally murdered in the outskirts of Bamenda, responsible for the act is yet to be established (C)

Despite going after the government of Cameroon as well as separatist leaders, the US Senators directly hold Mr. Biya’s government over all the atrocities committed in the land. They write: “…affirms that the United States Government holds the Government of Cameroon responsible for safeguarding the safety, security, and constitutional rights of all citizens, regardless of their region of origin or the regions in which they reside, or their religious beliefs or political views”.

The Biya government also came under scrutiny for well-documented and ascertained crimes against humanity committed by the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR). The Senators base their argument on the Ngarbuh massacre which occurred on February 14, 2020, claiming some 23 lives, as well as the brutal murder of US Missionary, Charles Wesco in the outskirts of Bamenda and the death of Journalist, Samuel Ajiekah Abuwe aka Wazizi in unknown circumstances in the custody of the military.

Samuel Ajiekah Abuwe aka Samuel Wazizi, Journalist who was reported dead in Cameroon Military Custody

“Whereas national and international outrage followed the massacre of at least 23 people, including 15 children and 2 pregnant women, by government security forces and allied militia on February 14, 2020, in Ngarbuh, Donga Mantung Division, in the Northwest region, and a commission of inquiry established by Cameroonian authorities ultimately led to the arrest and charging of 3 soldiers for murder…” the Senators note.

Reactions to the Resolution have not been long in coming, with allies of the 87-year-old President Biya expressing bitterness at what they consider an encroachment into the internal affairs of Cameroon. In one such reaction, politician Banda Kani, who once called for the assassination of the former US Ambassador to Cameroon, Henry Peter Barlerin, warned that the United States had no right to treat his president as “…the oldest head of state in Africa (who) has been in power since 1982, maintaining his grip on power by centralizing authority in the executive, undermining the Constitution of Cameroon, impeding democratic governance through corrupt practices, using security services to repress the opposition, and conducting elections marred by widespread irregularities and allegations of fraud”.   

Mr. Kani who spoke on Afrique Média television said “Cameroon has nothing to learn from any country in the world in the manner of conducting its affairs. We are a sovereign nation and any attempt to interfere in our country will meet with stiff resistance from the people”.

This view is not shared by Dr. Ebode Anselm, a Cameroonian Political Scientist based in Paris, France. He notes that “Cameroon achieved its independence on January 1, 1960, and when that happened, Southern Cameroons was not part of their territory. The referendum of February 11, 1961 is what brought in Southern Cameroons and the union was on certain terms: it had to be a federal union of two parties, equal in status, and there was supposed to be a union treaty. In the absence of a union treaty, there is a problem, and that problem is that Cameroon can only claim sovereignty over Southern Cameroons to the effect that the world decides to be complicit and look the other way, given the current circumstances”.

“Right now, the situation is going completely out of hands. There was a time we could have handled this internally, but that is no longer possible. I can understand why President Paul Biya is afraid of international negotiations, especially with a neutral mediator. They know that as this resolution says, the root cause, which is rooted in decolonization will be the basis of discussion and they have no case, no legal claim over that territory. That is the problem, and it is unfortunate because some of us have long advised a quick return to the federal system and no one listened. I am afraid it is already too late now for that option,” Dr. Ebode tells Timescape Magazine.

A tweet from the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s handle, @SenateForeign reading: “Today’s passage of S.Res. 684 sends a strong bipartisan message to the government of #Cameroon & armed groups fighting in the country’s #Anglophone regions to end all violence and commit to genuine & inclusive international arbitration to bring an end to the #AnglophoneCrisis”, also provoked diverse responses from internet users, who in their majority welcomed the Resolution and urged even tougher and immediate action aimed at forcing Cameroon to the negotiation table.

The release of this Resolution coincides with the discovery of some six civilians who had long disappeared after being arrested by the Cameroon military, at the notorious torture facility lodged at the Secretariat of State in Charge of the Gendarmerie, SED. The six civilians have been identified as Jah Anastasia, Innocent Nyuyknongi, Bame Emmanuel, Nye Florence, Rolland Johnson Mbanga, Mengondze Theophile Yenyuy, Nsoseka Abou Nordine, Wirba Suleman, Clinton Anjoh and Elvis Fru. The two young women among them: Nye Florence and Jah Anastasia were reported to have been arrested in Wum, some 73 km from Bamenda over six months ago and no family member knows their whereabouts.

The armed conflict between the Cameroons has so far claimed over 12,000 lives, according to several international rights organizations, though the United Nations puts the figure at just over 3,000.