Press briefing notes on Cameroon and Central African Republic

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva 
Date: 20 November 2018

(1)  Cameroon

We are deeply concerned about the worsening violence in the Southwest and Northwest regions of Cameroon, as we continue to receive reports of abductions and killings by armed groups, as well as extrajudicial killings by State armed forces. We urge all sides to refrain from acts of violence that have, for more than a year now, left the population in these regions living in fear, unable to access their basic human rights.

In addition to the high-profile abduction and subsequent release of 78 students and three staff at a Presbyterian secondary school in Bamenda, in the Northwest earlier this month, we regularly receive reports of abductions, reportedly carried out by armed secessionist groups. Just over the past two weeks, we have received reports of the abduction of eight students and one school official in Kumba, in the Southwest, and of at least 13 nuns near the locality of Bamessing – Ndop in the Northwest. They were all subsequently released, after some parents paid ransoms and the Catholic Diocese of Kumba intervened.

We have also received reports of armed secessionist groups attacking schools and destroying school buildings, which, coupled with the worrying abductions, has resulted in many children being unable to access their right to education since the violence broke out in October last year. There are also reports of the abduction and killing of police officers and administrative authorities.

Also in recent months, Cameroonian armed forces have allegedly carried out a number of extrajudicial executions in the Northwest and Southwest regions. On 20 October, in the village of Rom, in the Northwest town of Nwa, security forces reportedly killed four villagers during a confrontation with armed secessionist groups, while on 24 September, two men suspected of being secessionist fighters were reportedly killed on the spot. There have been numerous such reports in the preceding months.

What began as protests in October 2016 in the Northwest and Southwest regions against structural discrimination escalated into violence in 2017, and the situation has worsened considerably since then. The violence has led to massive internal displacement – at least 436,000 people are believed to be internally displaced, while more than 30,000 have fled to Nigeria since September last year.

We strongly condemn the human rights violations and abuses that have plagued the people in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon. We call on armed secessionists groups to refrain from the use of violence. We urge the Government to respect and protect the rights of all, to address the long-standing grievances of the communities in these regions, including through dialogue, to promptly investigate all cases of violations reportedly involving its security and defence forces, and to hold perpetrators responsible.

We also reiterate our readiness to work with the Government of Cameroon, including through an assessment mission to the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country, which we have requested. This will enable us to be able to look into the human rights situation first-hand and engage with the Government accordingly on ways to address it.

(2) Central African Republic

The decision by the Central African Republic to surrender former militia leader Alfred Yekatom to the International Criminal Court, following an arrest warrant for his alleged responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2013 and 2014, is a further significant step in the fight against impunity in the country.

His transfer on 17 November and last month’s inaugural session of the country’s Special Criminal Court send a strong message that the efforts to ensure accountability and justice for victims in CAR have begun producing results.

Such a message is all the more important amid a continuing upsurge in violence by armed groups. This started in Bria in central CAR where 31 civilians were killed from August to September. In Batangafo, in the north-west of the country, 11 civilians were killed from late October to early November.

On 15 November, an attack on an internally displaced persons site in Alindao in the south-east reportedly left at least 48 dead, including two religious leaders, and forced some 18,000 people to flee. On 16 November, there was an attack on a UN peacekeepers’ base in Gbambia in which a Tanzanian peacekeeper was killed.

These attacks demonstrate a continued pattern of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, often along ethnic and confessional lines by both ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka armed groups, as regularly documented by the Human Rights Division of MINUSCA and in the UN CAR mapping report that detailed violations and abuses from 2003 to 2015.

The armed groups and others who, despite peace efforts by the African Union, continue to target civilians and prevent the State from restoring its authority throughout the country to ensure the respect of human rights, should be aware that they will ultimately be held responsible and justice will prevail.