Action is needed now in Cameroon, says UK Member of Parliament

Elizabeth Anne McInnes a British Labour Party politician has called for action on the degenerating situation in the English speaking regions of Cameroon.

The 59 year old Member of Parliament for Heywood and Middleton in Greater Manchester shared this on her Facebook page:

“In September of this year, both the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, and myself, raised in the House of Commons the issue of the rapidly degenerating situation in Western Cameroon. It’s not the first time that these questions have been asked and there’s no doubt that it won’t be the last.

Those questions clearly struck a chord with many and since September both Emily and I have been inundated with shockingly graphic images and videos of attacks and persecution of those in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon. These attacks are not new and this new wave of awareness emphasises the need for the UK to do whatever it can to help facilitate peace talks and bring an end to the violence in the region.

Cameroon goes to the polls on October 7th in Presidential Elections and it looks very likely that President Paul Biya, aged 85 and having been in power for 35 years, will be re-elected, following the removal of presidential term limits in 2009. This is despite reports that Biya spends more time in Switzerland and France than in Cameroon and that he rarely holds Cabinet meetings, communicating instead with Ministers and Military leaders via WhatsApp.

In addition to the forthcoming elections, Cameroon is supposed to be hosting the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations next June but lack of progress on facilities and the growing insecurity in the Country could lead to the Confederation of African Football being forced to move the tournament.

The current period of escalating violence and displacement in Cameroon goes back to October 2016 when students and common-law lawyers in the West went on strike in protest against the continuing imposition of French speaking teachers and civil code Judges. Although French is the dominant European language spoken in Cameroon, twenty per cent of the country has an Anglophone colonial heritage. Western Cameroon was a British Trusteeship after the old German Colony was divided between Britain and France at the end of the First World War.

The strikes led to a clampdown by security forces and small-scale insurgency started to develop in Western Cameroon with the springing up of “Restoration”, “Defence” and “Liberation” Forces to push back against the security forces. By late 2017 several groups self-declared Western Cameroon as the “Republic of Ambazonia” which brought an even harsher reaction from the security forces. By May 2018 UN reports stated that over 20,000 had fled over the border to Nigeria, with another 160,000 internally displaced.

Human Rights Watch issued a damning report in July 2018 identifying “grave abuses against residents”. Hundreds of people including over 160 security personnel have been killed during clashes.

In February of this year, Africa Minister Harriett Baldwin visited Cameroon and urged “restraint and a de-escalation of current tensions”. France has condemned separatist violence and urged dialogue. Yet in June 2018 UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox hailed a new £1.5 billion natural gas trade deal with Cameroon, seemingly oblivious to the persecution and violence in the region. Indeed, Fox’s press release announcing the deal positively boasted of the huge revenue boost it would bring to Biya’s coffers.

Yet there are encouraging signs that other partners and bodies are beginning to take action. Just recently there have been calls for the Commonwealth to suspend Cameroon. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and 27 civil society organisations alerted the Commonwealth to violations such as indiscriminate killings, arbitrary arrests and torture, ahead of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting in New York on 28th Sept 2018. Although this is not specifically referred to in the concluding statement of this meeting* the next CMAG meeting is due to be held in London in April 2019 and this will provide another opportunity for the situation in Cameroon to be discussed.
Additionally, the United Nations Special Adviser on prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, has called for an investigation to be immediately opened into the wave of killings in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon. Dieng has urged both sides involved in the conflict to sit around a table for urgent dialogue as he described the atrocities as “concerning”.

Mr Dieng stated “The crimes committed by both parties need to be properly and independently investigated and perpetrators of those crimes need to be brought urgently to justice so that people know that no-one is above the law and that all Cameroonians are equal. My worry is that we still have many people being killed, so far more than 400 people. We have seen atrocious crimes being committed. We need to have political dialogue but also demand for justice.”

Finally, religious leaders in Cameroon, with the support of the independent International Crisis Group, have proposed an Anglophone General Conference in November. International support and pressure will be required to get the Government and secessionist groups around that table and I urge the UK Government to give that support and apply that pressure as an important first step towards peaceful settlement of the conflict.

The alternative is one that the UK should not even begin to contemplate. Further abuses of human rights, mass displacement, war crimes, worsening political oppression and finally a call for another UN peacekeeping mission.

Action is needed in Cameroon, and it is needed now.”


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