UN Security Council Members Urge Further Mediation to Settle Conflict in the Cameroons, Prescribe Independent Investigation into Samuel Wazizi Death

The ongoing armed conflict between the Cameroon armed forces and armed pro-independence groups in the territory of the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons is continuing to claim lives, worsening the already precarious humanitarian situation and deepening the refugee crisis in the Central and West African subregions.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) has reported that at least 680,000 people have been internally displaced, with tens of thousands escaping into neighboring Nigeria as refugees and over 3000 dead. Despite these grim figures, the Norwegian refugee Commission told the BBC recently that the conflict in the Cameroons has remained largely neglected, even with its potential to escalate.

Meeting Friday June 12 in New York, Members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) listened to a report on the worsening situation in the Cameroons from the United Nations Office for Central Africa (UNOCA). According to the report, it emerged that confrontations between the Cameroon armed forces and armed self-defense groups seeking to restore the independence of the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons, also known as Ambazonia were claiming more civilian lives daily, paralyzing the country’s economy and creating a humanitarian crisis that increasingly calls for attention.

Reacting to the report, Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet, Acting Deputy Permanent Representative of the US Mission to the United Nations said “Today, the United States would also like to direct the Council’s attention to the situation in Cameroon, where UNHCR reports there are nearly 680,000 people displaced in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country due to the conflict there”.

Ambassador Norman regretted that “Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic will only worsen the country’s deeply concerning humanitarian crisis, and we urge full humanitarian access be provided to public health responders”.

 

President Paul Biya, Cameroon's absentee Leader (C) US News & World Report

In the same vein, the Head of the Belgian Permanent Mission noted that “Belgium remains concerned about the situation in Cameroon,” adding that “We look forward to the full implementation of the National Dialogue and welcome further mediation efforts”.

The Belgian Mission also expressed worry at the deepening humanitarian crisis and warned that “Humanitarians should be protected, and full humanitarian access needs to be granted”.

Addressing the same issue, the Russian Mission took a different tangent and called for a comprehensive approach to resolving the armed conflict between the Cameroons by attacking it from the roots. The Russian Mission in a twit made clear the ongoing deadly clashes emanate from a history that needed to be revisited.

“We closely follow the developments in Cameroon. The issue of Anglophone provinces didn’t arise yesterday. It has deep historical roots,” the twit read, highlighting an aspect of the conflict that both the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and France have been seeking to bury.

Recently, a group of researchers from Oxford University in the United Kingdom published a report on the situation in the Cameroons, in which they made clear the historical undertones of the deadly conflict should not be ignored, if lasting peace has to return between the two peoples. The report also made clear quick fixes such as the ones contained in the resolutions of a recent national dialogue organized by the government of President Paul Biya would not solve the problem to the point of guaranteeing a return to normalcy.

The Russian Mission’s statement on the way forward appears to align with the recommendations made the Oxford University researchers that “A solution can be found only at the negotiating table, while observing human rights and ensuring the rule of law”.

The UN Security Council’s press statement on Central Africa as presented by Mr. Nicolas de Rivière, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations as President of the Security Council appeared to contrast sharply with the public positions of the United States, Belgian and Russian Missions. The statement failed to capture the gravity of the situation on the ground and avoided mentioning the Cameroons by name. It rather returned to the now infamous claim of “reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the countries of the region”.

 

Independent Investigation into Journalist Samuel Wazizi’s Death

In the days leading up to the Security Council Session at which UNOCA was to present the situation in Central Africa, some eleven rights organizations, among them Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists petitioned members to instruct an independent, transparent and impartial investigation into the death of a Buea-based journalist, Samuel Wazizi in Cameroon military custody. Wazizi was arrested on August 2, 2019 and held incommunicado until June 3, 2020 that a Douala-based television channel, Equinox alleged his death in a news report.

Picking up on that request, the US Mission wrote in its statement “We are also deeply concerned about the death of journalist Samuel Wazizi who was held for over 300 days in military detention. It is important that there be an independent investigation into his death – and that the results be made public”.

A Spokesperson of the Cameroon Military, Colonel Cyrille Atongfack claimed in a statement that Wazizi who was picked up in Buea on August 2, 2019 and ferried to notorious torture centres in Yaounde died on August 7, 2019 of Sepsis at a Military hospital. He also said the family was notified of his demise but did not show up to get his remains some 300 days after he died.

Family members, Wazizi’s lawyers and colleagues all told the press the Military Spokesperson’s account was not accurate, insisting they were not aware of his death. It is alleged that from the day of his arrest, no family member, friend, or lawyer was ever allowed to see Wazizi.