Amnesty International Reports on the “Lion versus Deer” Fight in the Cameroons
By Ntumfoyn Boh Herbert (Yindo Toh)
If a lion and a deer were locked in a fight, can one say there is violence on both sides?
Well – that is what Amnesty International seems to have concluded in its most recent report on the Cameroons. Media accounts of the report “A Turn for the Worse” have been fairer to the victims of rights abuses than Amnesty’s account is. AFP leads on the story as follows: “A government crackdown in two regions of Cameroon where English-speaking separatists are campaigning for an independent state has inflamed the crisis, Amnesty International says.”
The report blames armed separatists for the escalation in the crisis. Here are the exact words [page 6]: “The escalation of such violence by the armed separatists by end of 2017 coincided with the militarization of the Anglophone regions…”
Everyone else – except Amnesty, it seems – knows that the escalation of the crisis started with the regime declaring war on those whom Cameroon’s 85-year-old tyrant Paul Biya calls “secessionists” and “terrorists.” The first act in the escalation was the indiscriminate targeting and killing of civilians. This was forewarned by a communique, issued on 1 December 2017, inviting citizens in 15 villages in Manyu to “relocate to safer neighborhoods.” Amnesty points to the communique but buys the propaganda sold by the Biya regime that “the communique was withdrawn the following day.” The so-called withdrawal did not prevent the regime from slaying those Biya called “terrorists” and a governor and sycophants of the regime called “dogs”, “roaches” and “rats”. Amnesty offers another outrageous excuse, writing: “Cameroon has the right and obligation to conduct law enforcement and security operations in any part of its territory.”
To their discharge – and unlike Human Rights Watch, which simply has not covered the crisis, going to the extent of simply omitting Cameroon from their 2017 report – Amnesty’s biggest achievement is that they issued a report. Sadly, the report fosters the under-reporting of some of the most gruesome violations. For example, the report is quiet on the massacre in Menka. It has nothing to say about the abduction and rendition of Sisiku AyukTabe and other leaders from Nigeria, except as footnotes. Of the now nearly 80 villages razed to the ground in Ambazonia, Amnesty mentions only one – Kwakwa. And, Amnesty focuses on the killing of two security officers in Kwakwa. It fails to mention the retributive killing of five civilians, including Mami Apih, burnt alive in her home. Amnesty sugarcoats the scorched-earth policy of the Biya regime by saying that its troops in Kwakwa “conducted a security operation which resulted in massive destruction of homes and property.” Amnesty sidesteps the fact that Kwakwa was destroyed in retaliation, not “in connection with the killing of two gendarmes.”
The report goes one step further. It attempts to sanitize what happened in Kwakwa and other communities torched by security forces. Here is how very nicely Amnesty reports on the savagery by security forces. “When security forces entered some of these villages [page 6], they used excessive force to locate and arrest those who had stayed behind.” Locate and arrest!
The omission of the Menka Massacre in a report covering January to May 2018 is telling. It cannot be explained simply by the fact that Amnesty did not visit Menka or that the story broke while the report was already in print. Amnesty researchers list Kembong as one of the villages they visited. Yet the report fails to mention Kembong as the first of nearly 80 villages burnt to the ground to date. Also, the report does not mention the declaration by the spokesperson of the colonial army who says their troops torched only those homes in which they allegedly found weapons. It also does not mention video – gone viral – showing soldiers torching homes.
Instead, and consistent with propaganda by the colonialists, Amnesty puts the spotlight on five traditional palaces which it claims were targeted and burnt down by mobs of angry youth. Amnesty is so confused about one of these palaces that it states [page 15] that one of the palaces burnt down was a house belonging to the ADF (Ambazonian Defense Forces). The youth reportedly targeted the chiefs for collaborating with the colonizers, in the arrest, torture and killing of young pro-independence supporters. Whereas it is no longer in doubt that young Ambazonians are the most victimized segment of the population, Amnesty says traditional chiefs “are among those most targeted” and “have been badly hit by the crisis” [page 15].
Of the hundreds of schools known to have been vandalized or torched, the report blames pro-independence groups for the destruction of 42 schools. Silence on who burnt down or vandalized hundreds of other schools must mean the arsonists were government security forces. It is troops that set fire the very first time – by destroying a car belonging to one of the leaders of the teachers’ strike. Security forces later targeted and burnt down schools to protest the school boycott at a time when the regime was so irked by the churches keeping their schools under lock and key that they dragged Catholic bishops and other pastors to court.
Remarkably, Amnesty relays pro-regime accounts in which a teacher at a Catholic Primary School at Ntungfe, Boyo County, claims he was alone in the classroom (at 9.20am, on a school day) when he was attacked by one man, wielding a locally fabricated gun using pellets. In the second account, Amnesty buys the claim by the principal of the Baptist Comprehensive Secondary School at Njinikejem, Boyo County, that one man carrying a knife, attacked him and the matron in an effort to close down the school. Both stories are not believable. Attacks by angry mobs mentioned elsewhere in the report sound more convincing than lone wolf attacks. Amnesty also does not question why a school like Sacred Heart College, Mankon, was vandalized and partially burnt down while guarded by the dreaded BIR forces. Amnesty must not have seen video – gone viral – showing soldiers set fire to parts of Sacred Heart College.
Amnesty is careful to call its accusations of the Biya regime allegations. It issues a disclaimer to the effect that Amnesty “has not been able to independently verify these allegations of torture” [page 12].. Amnesty does not need to independently verify accusations against pro-independence groups. Referencing the 1 February 2018 killing of two gendarmes manning a checkpoint at Mbingo, North West Region, Amnesty says the killings – not allegedly – it says the killings were perpetrated “by a group of young armed separatists.” The report barely stops short of naming Sam Sawyer and three other young men beheaded later as the perpetrators.
While the report simply says “human rights violations need to stop,” it is more forceful in stating: “attacks on public officials, security forces and ordinary people are serious crimes.” Amnesty appears throughout the report to offer support for the security forces known for leading the violation of rights. For example, the report has the numbers of security officers killed down to the decimal point. That is not the same of attention to detail for Ambazonians killed. In sections of the report, it merely states that “some peaceful protesters were killed…” Some! No numbers! Amnesty seems to care less for innocent victims it has a mandate to protect. [See at the end of this article for confusing excerpts all drawn from the report on the killings]. That apparent lack of care for victims starts with the first line of the Executive Summary, which reads: “The Anglophone regions [not the people] have endured turmoil and violence in what has become a human rights crisis.”
Nope! The crisis is a national identity crisis. It is a territorial dispute between the two peoples and two nations of the Cameroons it is a crisis in which human rights violations have become rampant; not a human rights crisis. Amnesty seems to have used this report to victimize the victims. The approach is replicated when Amnesty downplays calls for independence. For example, the report [page 9] says “some protesters also called for greater autonomy for the Anglophone regions.” It is amazing that Amnesty documented “some protesters” demanding greater autonomy but could not see the multitudes – perhaps in their millions – who called for outright independence. Adding salt to injury, Amnesty misrepresents why the multitude of Ambazonians poured into the streets on 22 September 2017 and 1 October 2017. Whereas they came out to celebrate independence, those celebrations are misrepresented by Amnesty [page 10] calling them “large scale protests.”
One thing is clear in the report: Amnesty does not want to acknowledge Ambazonia, preferring to stick with the appellation: Anglophone regions. That is probably why the report tries hard to paint the crisis as one of language. For Amnesty, the Biya regime has been trying “to resolve the crisis” since January 2017 by… [wait for it!] “…by establishing a National Commission on the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, appointing Anglophone magistrates and bilingual teachers…” Amnesty barely stops short of suggesting, as some sycophants of the Biya regime have done, that Ambazonians are an ungrateful bunch not to recognize such kindness. As an Ambazonian, you feel like crying to see Amnesty join the regime [page 12] in reaffirming the falsehood that Ambazonians “lack competent Anglophone teachers.”
Finally, and although Amnesty rightly states that the violations are made possible by “a widespread and entrenched culture of impunity” [page 19], the report offers lame recommendations. In calling for accountability, the report calls on the regime to “take all legal measures to ensure accountability for crimes committed by the armed separatists” [page 30]. No such recommendation is made for crimes committed by regime forces. None of the recommendations calls for a repeal of the anti-terror law which allows the regime to charge persons who join mere anti-government protests with terrorism. This is the law that makes it legal for the regime to hold detainees “without charge for a period of 15 days, renewable indefinitely.” Remarkably, and further to Amnesty’s attempt to undermine the pro-independence movement, the report does not mention the rendition of Sisiku AyukTabe and aides, except as a footnote. It does not denounce the abductions, deportations, and the court-marshalling of pro-independence or pro-federalism activists before a military tribunal using a foreign language (French).
In recommending a political solution to the crisis, Amnesty fails to acknowledge the biggest demand by Ambazonians – independence and separation, first adopted as Option Zero in 1994 and followed in 1999 and 2009 by symbolic declarations of independence. Amnesty joins the Biya regime in calling for an end to “marginalization and exclusion” [page 31]. Singing from the same hymnbook as the regime, Amnesty calls for “an inclusive dialogue” that it explains could help restore [page 31] “the confidence between state representatives and the Anglophone communities.”
Either unwilling or unprepared to follow the lead already provided by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights which handed down a historic ruling recognizing Ambazonians as a people with an inalienable right to self-determination, Amnesty invites the Banjul-based court of the African Union to do something symbolic: “issue a public statement expressing concern…” You read right! Express concern and deploy “a fact-finding mission” to Ambazonia.
Notwithstanding the shortcomings of this report, it has focused world attention and caught the eye of global media. Thank you, Amnesty. However, my humble opinion is that a good starting point for reversing the abuses and righting the wrongs against Ambazonians would be for Amnesty International and other rights groups to join the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in reaffirming the inalienable right of Ambazonians to self-determination. A second important point would be for rights groups to recognize that the crimes underway in Ambazonia are no longer just human rights violations. What is unfolding in Ambazonia are Atrocity Crimes, war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts bordering on genocide.
Amnesty is right in noting that the clampdown and heavy-handed response from the Biya regime only “appear to have empowered and created space for more radical and violent movements to emerge with a focus on secession [the right word is restoration] and armed struggle.”
Amnesty’s Lack of Attention to Detail Regarding Victims
Below (highlighted in red) are direct excerpts from “A Turn for the Worse”, showing very glaringly the scant attention Amnesty seems to be paying to the count of victims:
“Security forces were responsible for the killing of at least 10 peaceful protesters between October 2016 and February 2017.”
“In October (1st October), Cameroonian security forces shot dead 20 peaceful protesters, by firing indiscriminately on crowds, including from helicopters.”
“Armed separatists have attacked security forces, especially gendarmes and police, killing at least 44 of them between September 2017 and May 2018, in both the North West and South West regions.”
“In one case documented in this report, members of the Rapid Intervention Battalion and the regular Army unlawfully killed at least four unarmed men during an operation in the village of Dadi, in December 2017. In another case, also from December 2017, the same forces shot dead three unarmed men in the village of Kajifu.”
“Amnesty International documented that at least one of them (of the at least 23 people, including minors and two men with mental disabilities arrested in Dadi on 13 December 2017) died at the Buea Central Prison – where those arrested in Dadi were eventually transferred.”
“Between September 2017 and May 2018 at least 44 members of the security forces were killed in attacks at checkpoints, in the streets, or on their duty stations.“
“More than 20 people were killed during the 1 October 2017 protests in several cities, such as Bamenda, Buea, Mamfe, Kumba, including unarmed people shot in the back, and over 500 were arbitrarily arrested.”
“The killing of over 20 peaceful protesters between 22 September and 1 October 2017 marked an escalation of the crisis,43 which intensified even further following a series of major military-led operations conducted in December 2017 in various villages of the Manyu division.”
13 December 2017 – “Amnesty International received and corroborated the names of the four men, between 27 and 33 years old, who were killed by security forces in Dadi. Three were shot as they were returning to Dadi from their farms on motorbikes, and one as he attempted to flee towards the bush out of fear on 13 December 2017. All witnesses confirmed that those killed by the military were unarmed.”
“In addition, witnesses say that six other people, including a 9-year-old girl, were also killed during the 13 December 2017 military operation in Dadi, but Amnesty International has not been able to independently verify the information.”
14 December 2017 – “At least one person, an elderly man of about 60 years old, was extra-judicially executed outside his house.”
In early December 2017 – “A 28-year-old man who was in Kajifu when the operation unfolded recalled how the soldiers killed a man: Amnesty International corroborated that at least three unarmed men, between 25 and 30 years old, were unlawfully killed as a result of gunshot wounds and other injuries sustained as they attempted to flee.”
“In addition, eyewitnesses and residents of Kajifu provided a list of nine other men who they say were killed during the operation, but Amnesty International has not been able to confirm the information.”
“In the early hours of 2 February 2018, over 40 members of the security forces, including gendarmes, BIR and regular Army soldiers, conducted operations in Belo,66 particularly focusing on the area known as Acha. At least one unarmed man was shot in the back and killed by security forces, dozens were beaten and arbitrary arrested and four died in custody.”
“On 3 February 2018, the corpses of four men (between 28 and 45 years old) were found at the Bamenda Regional Hospital mortuary, and later identified by family members as the same men who were arrested by a group of gendarmes, regular Army soldiers and BIR in Belo the previous evening. The families described to Amnesty International how they found the bodies bloodied with marks on their necks. Three of the men were arrested in a liquor store in Belo Square, and the other at a nearby residence.”