Human Rights Watch, HRW, has condemned the action of Cameroon’s armed forces in the country’s Far North region.
In what the body says amounts to forced labour, it accuses soldiers of forcing civilians to perform local night guard duty to protect against attacks by the armed Islamist group Boko Haram.
HRW’s stance is revealed by its Central Africa director, Lewis Mudge: “The Cameroon authorities should immediately stop forcing civilians to perform night guard duty and instead protect civilians through lawful means.”
The civilians who were reportedly forced under threat to perform guard duty received no compensation and were put in harm’s way. The civilians, HRW adds, were not trained, were unarmed, and were told to run back to town to alert the army if they saw Boko Haram fighters approaching.
“According to victims, witnesses, and residents, at least 40 people were threatened with death and beatings or were beaten for refusing to take part,” the international rights organisation states.
Lewis Mudge demands an investigation: “Cameroonian authorities should investigate the reported beatings, threats, and forced labor and members of the security forces found to be responsible should be brought to justice”.
Reminding government that Cameroon has ratified both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the 1930 International Labour Organisation (ILO) Forced Labour Convention No. 29, which prohibit the use of forced or compulsory labour, HRW says the trust between the forces of law and order and the population has to be rebuilt.
According to the reports by the international NGO, these abuses were recorded between the months of March and the end of April in Mozogo. In a paper published today July 10, 2020, Human Rights Watch accused the soldiers of the 42nd Motorized infantry battalion to have forced the civilians to mount night watches as a means of preventing surprise attacks from Islamist Militant group Boko Haram in the locality of Mozogo.
The reports say “Soldiers beat or threatened those who refused to do the job. Human Rights Watch has been informed that the violation has now stopped. However, residents continue to live in fear that the beatings will resume, while forced labour and threats continue”.
Human Rights Watch says it were informed by over 15 persons within the months of April and May that they were forced and threatened to perform night watching duties by the military in the area. 6 of them have equally confirmed to being tortured by this same force for refusing to take up these duties.
The report also mentioned that “HRW interviewed 12 witnesses residing in Mozogo who were not subjected to this forced labour by the 42nd Motorized Infantry Battalion, and four representatives of local human rights organisations”
“Cameroon security should address threats posed by Boko Haram in a way that respects rights and wins the trust of the population … That trust has been broken by a climate of near total impunity for the military’s abuses,” Mudge notes.
This is not the first time Cameroon soldiers are accused of rights abuses in the war against the Boko Haram sect.
According the Human Rights Watch, since January, Boko Haram has carried out over 200 attacks and raids in the Far North region, killing at least 126 people.
Mimi Mefo Info