Cameroon’s President Biya Under Pressure Over Human Rights



Buffeted by security and political crises and embarrassed by military blunders, Cameroon’s government has been forced to give ground on human rights under intense pressure from campaigners and the UN and from allies who once chose to overlook its flaws.

NGOs have long denounced abuses in the central African country, from the detention of journalists and arrests of opponents to the killings of civilians by soldiers.

But after a massacre by security forces and the death of a detained journalist, the international outcry has been so loud that President Paul Biya, in power since 1982, has been forced to make U-turns.

Three soldiers were charged this month with murder over the February killing of 10 children and three women in western Cameroon. The UN says at least 23 civilians had died.

The military had denied the killings for two months, blaming the deaths on fuel containers that had accidentally exploded during a firefight between security forces and anglophone separatists.

The investigation and prosecution of the soldiers mark an unprecedented step by a regime deaf to such accusations for decades.

From now on, “it will be difficult for the regime to resist international pressure,” said Cameroonian political scientist Ambroise Louison Essomba.

The government “has every interest, for its own survival, to closely study this question of human rights”, said another analyst, Jacques Ebwea.

The pressure is mounting as Cameroon is battered by violence: in the north, where attacks by Boko Haram jihadists are on the rise, and in the west where a three-year separatist revolt rages on, rooted in resentment among the English-speaking minority in the francophone-majority country.

– Dismissed as fake –
Violence between anglophone separatists and security forces has claimed more than 3,000 lives and at least 700,000 have fled their homes.

Although rights monitors emphasise that abuses have been committed by both sides, the armed forces have become mired in a series of high-profile atrocities.

“The use of violence has become almost commonplace,” said Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, director of the Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC).

Under pressure from NGOs, the United Nations, the United States and France — the country’s former colonial ruler and a close ally — Biya announced an investigation into the February killings, which found that the “uncontrolled” soldiers had tried to hide their crime and falsified their reports.

The United Nations welcomed the “positive step”, but demanded that “all those responsible” for the killing be brought to justice.

“There are more and more convictions, but unfortunately they are slow to produce the desired result, which is to establish a true rule of law,” said Ngo Mbe.

In another high-profile case, seven soldiers are on trial for the execution-style killing of two women and their babies in the Far North, a region abutting Nigeria where Boko Haram jihadists fighters have carried out brutal attacks on civilians.

The atrocity was filmed and shared on social media.

The government had initially dismissed the images as fake before — under international pressure — changing position and arresting the seven.

– Political crisis –
On top of those conflicts, Cameroon has been experiencing an unprecedented political crisis since Biya — who is 87 years old and has ruled Cameroon since 1982 — was re-elected in 2018.

His challenger and main opponent, Maurice Kamto, and hundreds of his supporters were arrested shortly after the elections.

They spent nine months in prison without trial before being released in October 2019, again after strong international mobilisation.

“The international community’s interventions inconvenience the regime… but very often only at first, and very little over the long term,” said Christophe Bobiokono, a member of the National Commission for Human Rights and Freedom, a government institute.

Local and international NGOs announced in early June that anglophone journalist Samuel Wazizi, who had been arrested ten months earlier, had died in detention at the hands of the military after being tortured.

The army finally acknowledged the death but denied the allegations of torture, claiming that he had died of severe sepsis less than two weeks after he was arrested on a terrorism charge.

Wazizi’s family said they were never informed of his death.

NGOs immediately called for an independent investigation, and hours later the French ambassador announced to the press that Biya would launch a probe after the two had met to discuss the death.

The press watchdog RSF ranks Cameroon 134th out of 180 countries and territories in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, three places lower than the previous year.




Cameroon Releases 333 Prisoners Amid National Dialogue

FILE PHOTO: Cameroon President Paul Biya. AFP PHOTO / REINNIER KAZE

President Paul Biya on Thursday ordered the prosecution of people numbering over 300, linked to the separatist crisis in Cameroon’s anglophone regions to be dropped.

“The president today decided to halt prosecutions that are pending in military tribunals… for crimes committed in the context of the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions,” a statement said.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute at a national “dialogue,” launched by Biya, on resolving the turmoil in the two English-speaking regions.

He said Biya sought “a measure to calm (the situation)… while we continue our work.”

The premier read it first in French, which said  “333 people (were) concerned” by the measure.

This was followed by a statement in English, which said Biya had “already announced the release of over 330 persons who were in custody.”

Armed separatists in the Northwest and Southwest regions have launched a two-year-old campaign for independence from Cameroon, where French is the predominant language.

Biya’s government has responded with a crackdown that rights groups have fiercely condemned.

The International Crisis Group has estimated that nearly 3,000 people have been killed in violence committed by both sides and more than half a million people have fled their homes.

Biya’s “dialogue,” which opened on Monday and is scheduled to end on Friday, brings together political groups, civil society, and religious groups, as well as representatives of the armed forces.

But armed rebel groups have snubbed the forum, and analysts have questioned whether the initiative can achieve much while the main separatist leaders are behind bars.

In August, secessionist leader Julius Ayuk Tabe — the self-proclaimed president of “Ambazonia” — was sentenced to life in prison along with nine of his supporters.

English-speakers account for about a fifth of Cameroon’s population of 24 million.

They are mainly concentrated in the Northwest and Southwest regions, which were folded into Cameroon after the colonial era in Africa wound down six decades ago.

Resentment has festered there for years among English-speakers who complain of discrimination and marginalisation, especially in education, the judiciary, and economic opportunities.

Biya, 86, who has been in power for nearly 37 years, repeatedly refused demands for decentralisation or a return to Senegal’s federal structure — a move blamed for radicalisation of the anglophone movement.


Cameroon Opposition Leader Claims Win Ahead Of Formal Poll Result

Maurice Kamto, leader of the Cameroonian opposition party Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) is greeted as he arrives on stage in Yaounde, on September 30, 2018, to address a campaign rally for the Presidential Elections. PHOTO: MARCO LONGARI / AFP


A leading opposition challenger to President Paul Biya claimed victory on Monday following Cameroon’s presidential polls despite a government warning not to announce unofficial results.

Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) candidate Maurice Kamto’s dramatic announcement follows Sunday polls marked by violence in restive anglophone regions, low turnout and difficulties staging the ballot in the conflict-torn north.

By law each polling station must submit its results, after verification by the Elecam electoral commission, to the Constitutional Court which is responsible for announcing the final, official tally within 15 days.

“I was charged with taking a penalty, I took it and I scored,” said Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) candidate Maurice Kamto at a media conference in Yaounde.

“I have received a clear mandate from the people and I intend to defend it until the end.”

A raft of unofficial results from Cameroon’s almost 25,000 polling stations has already begun to circulate on social media.

Ahead of Kamto’s declaration, Local Government minister Paul Atanga-Nji called on “all the political players… to act responsibly so that the process concludes in the same spirit as it started”.

“Any challenge to the polling process made outside of legal channels will not be tolerated,” he told state media.

Opposition candidates had called on their supporters to oversee the tallying process to prevent any fraud that might favour 85-year-old Biya’s quest for re-election.

“Times are tough. Rise up and prepare to defend your victory because there are some unbelievable things going on,” said outsider opposition hopeful, Cabral Libii, who at 38 was the youngest candidate.

Ahead of the polls, in which 6.5 million voters were eligible to cast ballots, Kamto warned he would “not accept any” result tainted by fraud.

 ‘No one came to vote’

Labour Minister Gregoire Owona, who is the deputy secretary-general of Biya’s ruling party, said on Twitter: “I strongly recommend that you don’t tie yourself to any violent, insurrection movement”.

Tensions were high during the vote and violence was reported in the anglophone regions which have been torn by a separatist insurgency that erupted a year ago.

After voting began Sunday, security forces shot dead three suspected separatists who had allegedly fired at passersby from a motorcycle in Bamenda, the main city in the English-speaking northwest region, a local official said.

In Buea, capital of the anglophone southwest, three separatists of the so-called Ambazonia Republic separatist movement were gunned down on Friday.

Gunfire was heard in the largely deserted town throughout polling day and a car belonging to the state-run Cameroon Tribune newspaper came under fire.

The violence in the anglophone regions has killed at least 420 civilians, 175 members of the security forces and an unknown number of separatists, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank.

“We’re bored because no one came to vote, people stayed at home because they’re scared,” said opposition election observer Georges Fanang in one of Buea’s polling stations.

Low turnout?

The army also confirmed that voting could not be held in at least one district of the southwest, Lysoka village, because of the insecurity.

“As expected, turnout in the English regions has been particularly low with virtually all the returns we have seen suggesting less than five per cent,” said ICG analyst Hans de Marie Heungoup.

The poll passed off without incident in the rest of the country.

“Two weeks! We’ve just finished counting here and I’m already getting news from other polling stations,” complained poll worker Francois, 22, after the ballot finished at one voting centre in Yaounde on Sunday night.

But in the far north region, considered a “key” to the election because of its large population, very few opposition election observers deployed to remote polling stations, witnesses said, raising fears of possible fraud.

The region has been rocked by violent attacks carried out by Nigeria-based Boko Haram jihadists despite US efforts to equip and train Cameroonian forces.


Cameroon Ends Internet Shutdown On Orders Of President Paul Biya

Internet services in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions have been restored three months after they were cut off, following protests.

Before the ban, authorities had warned mobile phone users that they faced jail term for spreading false information.

Communications and the economy were badly affected by the shutdown.

Anglophone Cameroonians in the north-west and south-west regions had also been protesting over the imposition of French in their schools and courts.

They make up about 20 percent of the country’s 23 million people.

Chibok Girls: U.S. Will Continue To Support Nigeria – Ambassador Power

chibok girlsThe U.S. Ambassador to United Nations, Samantha Power on Thursday said the United States will not rest in its support of Nigeria and other neighboring countries to secure the release of abducted people.

Speaking to State House correspondents after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, Power noted that the Chibok girls issue is of top priority to her country.

The Ambassador, who came to the Presidential Villa with the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr James Entwistle, said the meeting among other issues centered on what the United Nations and the USA are doing as a follow up to the promise to assist Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram.

She said apart from the provision of intelligence, the United States has been able to provide platforms to the Nigerian military in the fight against Boko Haram.

On the recent video showing proof of life of some of the abducted girls aired by CNN, she said the United States will follow every lead that will support the release of the girls.

Power had on Tuesday, pledged $40 million in humanitarian assistance to countries bordering Lake Chad, fighting Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said the money is to help about seven million people affected by the insurgent group that has killed around 15,000 people.

Power was in the capital of Cameroon, Yaounde, and met President Paul Biya.

“We discussed the monstrous threat posed by Boko Haram and we agreed, and he was very forceful on this point, that the military response alone could not succeed in defeating Boko Haram in the long-term,” she said of her meeting with Biya.

U.S. Pledges $40 Million To Countries Affected By Boko Haram

forexThe United States on Tuesday pledged $40 million in humanitarian assistance to countries bordering Lake Chad, fighting Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said the money is to help about seven million people affected by the insurgent group that has killed around 15,000 people.

Power was in the capital of Cameroon, Yaounde, and met President Paul Biya and attended a ceremony to burn 2,000 tusks in a bid to end elephant poaching. The trip includes visits to Chad and Nigeria.

“We discussed the monstrous threat posed by Boko Haram and we agreed, and he was very forceful on this point, that the military response alone could not succeed in defeating Boko Haram in the long-term,” she said of her meeting with Biya.

Respect for human rights, good governance, economic and forest development and a focus on civil society were essential components of the campaign, she said.

Power has been scheduled to visit the region’s Multinational Joint Task Force, which is staffed with troops from Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Benin.

Power also called for financial support from the international community to aid the development of areas battered by Boko Haram.

It takes total U.S. aid to the sub-region since 2014 to $237 million, she said.

President Buhari Returns From Cameroon

Muhammadu-Buhari-Obama-visitPresident Muhammadu Buhari is back to Nigeria after a 2-day visit to Cameroon.

President Buhari, before his return, got assurances from his Cameroonian counterpart, President Paul Biya, that the two countries would cooperate in dealing with the Boko Haram menace in spite of border lines.

Both Presidents also discussed strategies on how to improve trade relations.

President Buhari believes that insurgency must be tackled from all fronts as the wave of attacks spill into Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic.

He said, “We recognise that none of us can succeed alone, in order to win this war we need the collective efforts of each one of us, standing together as a formidable force for good to defeat and end these acts of terror against our people.”