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Cameroon: Michelle Bachelet takes stock of the human right situation in the country.

05.05.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
After close to 3 years of the civil conflict which erupted in the English part of Cameroon and the incessant cry of gross human rights violations perpetrated by both security forces and separatist fighters, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet visits the violence-stricken nation. Bachelet’s visit did not end in the Unity palace as many would have expected; she took off time to visit other political parties as well as civil society organizations. Does her visit in any way give room to think that a possible solution is underway to the current impasse the country is facing?

Dialogue has for over a long time now been proposed by even the commonest man in Cameroon as the only means to break the deadlock which has plunged the country into years of armed conflicts. Yet it remains highly unclear as to who should call such dialogue and how it should be conducted. Since the onset of the conflict, the population has sent out distress calls to the United Nations which to them has the final say and the capacity to settle the ongoing dispute. It is still very uncertain as to whether the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is a response to the outcry of the people, but the crisis in the English speaking regions of the country was top on her agenda as serious concerns of human rights violations are being raised.

 

ANGLOPHONE CRISIS: FROM PEACEFUL PROTEST TO ARMED CONFLICT

A teacher and lawyer strike which started on October 6, 2016, and was mishandled by the authorities escalated into a collective outcry of marginalization from the population which has today led to what we now have as the Anglophone crisis.

Peaceful protests were carried out in the cities of Bamenda, Buea and, Limbe as the activists demanded protection of the common law system practiced in the Anglophone regions. In response to the peaceful protest, the government deployed security forces to crack down the protests, which only complicated the situation. In January 2017, the government opened dialogue with the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, to find a solution to the plight of the striking lawyers and teachers which later stalled. The Consortium which submitted demands for a federal state in Cameroon was later banned and some members arrested.

The demand for a federal state was not welcomed by the government which later considered protesters a threat to national unity. The heavy crackdown on the protests led to the emergence of separatist movements and in September 2017, the separatists began to take up arms against the government.

UN CONDEMNED VIOLENCE AND RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN CAMEROON

In order to quell the conflicts, security forces used excessive force against during peaceful demonstrations. They equally carried out extrajudicial executions, burned property, carried out arbitrary arrests, and tortured detainees.

In 2017, Anglophone separatists launched an offensive and attacked government institutions, kidnapped, and killed soldiers and even civilians perceived to side with the government. According to the International Crisis Group, soldiers and separatists killed over 420 civilians in the regions since the crisis escalated.

In November 2018, the UN human rights wing strongly condemned the massive killings and kidnappings in the affected regions. The statement released by this body revealed that the UN continuously received reports of abductions, and killings carried out by both armed forces and separatist groups.

With the precarious situation in the country today and the constant reports on human rights violations, the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet was in no doubt expected. However, the outcome of such visit, is what will make a difference from all other visits made to the country in relation to the ongoing conflict.

OPPOSITION AND CIVIL SOCIETY ACTORS CALL FOR DIALOGUE AS BACHELET ENDS VISIT

During her four-day working visit, Michelle Bachelet met with some opposition heads as well as members of the civil society in Cameroon.  During the meeting, she listened to various views on the human rights situation in Cameroon which permitted her to get the other side of the story.

Edith Kah Walla, leader of the Stand Up for Cameroon Movement and head of the CPP party indicated the probability of the conflict degenerating into a full-blown war if nothing is done. Among other solutions, she strongly advocated for a National Dialogue. Akere Muna equally pinpointed an inclusive dialogue as the only way out of the current impasse.

WILL BACHELET’S VISIT HELP END THE CURRENT STALEMATE IN THE COUNTRY?

The most desired expectation from the onset of this crisis has been the reaction from the United Nations which many believed is the most competent institution to mediate should there be a dialogue. Hence to many, the visit of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is a milestone achieved.

Could this visit be considered the first step rolled out by the United Nations to iron out the situation in Cameroon? This is the question which tickles the mind as the entire Anglophone population in Cameroon hopes on for the outcome of this visit as well as a more practical solution.

The United Nations offered to help the government improve in the respect and protection of human rights in Cameroon during an audience granted by the Head of State, Paul Biya, which surely indicates the likelihood of more UN involvement in the country. But will the government allow an independent team to access the Anglophone regions to investigate allegations of human rights violation? If this is the case, it could end up being caught in its own trap.

 

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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