Civilians bear brunt of Cameroon conflict, Amnesty warns

Cameroonian soldiers

A file photo taken on November 12, 2014 shows Cameroonian soldiers patrolling in Amchide, northern Cameroon, a kilometre from Nigeria.

Photo credit: Reinnier Kaze | AFP

Civilians have borne the brunt of three years of fighting between Cameroonian soldiers and separatists in the anglophone west of the central African country, Amnesty International said Wednesday. 

The human rights watchdog collected witness accounts and analysed satellite images to assess the fallout from the fighting. 

Releasing its report, Amnesty said: "Civilians (bear) the brunt of unlawful killings, kidnappings and widespread destruction of houses and villages. 

"Government intervention has been limited, and there has been near-complete silence from the international community," it added.

Members of the anglophone minority in the country's westernmost provinces have long complained of being marginalised by the French-speaking majority and 88-year-old President Paul Biya, in power for 38 years.

Their demonstrations devolved into a bloody conflict, and rebels have extended attacks against police and soldiers to civilians.

Separatists accuse members of the Fulani ethnic group of siding with authorities and taking up arms against them.

"All parties to the conflict... have committed human rights violations and abuses, and civilians are caught in the middle," Amnesty's Central Africa researcher Fabien Offner said in a press release. 

He cited an example in which separatists gunned down two elderly women and one in which Fulani vigilantes burned hundreds of homes and killed four people.

The report describes a surge in violence in February, with the Nwa subdivision on the northwest border with Nigeria targeted in particular.

"At least 4,200 people were displaced from seven villages in Nwa following attacks by Fulani vigilante groups in which at least eight people were killed" between February 22 and 26, it says.   

The report cites the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) as saying Fulani herders carried out over a dozen raids on Nwa villages in less than a month.

Amnesty says satellite images from February confirmed the destruction of the villages.

"It is unclear whether Fulani vigilante groups attacked the villages or whether the destruction took place during clashes with armed separatist groups," it said, however.

Amnesty also said separatists have targeted Mbororo people -- a Fulani subgroup -- in particular. 

In the absence of official figures, Mbororo witness accounts report some 162 deaths, 300 homes burned and 102 kidnappings since 2017. 

In the release, Offner pleaded for the government to take action to stop the violence, including accepting a proposed fact-finding mission by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

"The Cameroonian authorities must deliver on their responsibility to protect the entire population indiscriminately," he said.