Cameroon’s English-speaking regions and the Far North witnessed a surge in violence during the latter half of 2023, with civilians bearing the brunt, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The New York-based organization’s annual review, released Thursday, sheds light on the escalating conflict marked by “cases of unlawful killings, abductions, and raids on villages.”
“Clashes between armed groups and government forces saw an increase in cases of unlawful killings, abductions, and raids on villages in the last six months of the year,” the HRW report stated.
The Northwest and Southwest regions, primarily English-speaking, have been embroiled in conflict since 2017, following a declaration of independence by separatists. The roots of the conflict lie in decades of perceived discrimination against the English-speaking population by the French-speaking majority.
President Paul Biya, who has held power for 41 years, has consistently resisted calls for broader autonomy, responding with a crackdown on separatist movements. In 2023, separatists continued their attacks on schools, students, and education professionals as part of a broader boycott against the teaching of French.
“At least 2,245 schools are not functioning” in the Anglophone regions, the HRW report noted.
By mid-2023, over 638,000 people had been displaced, and 1.7 million required humanitarian aid in the two Anglophone regions alone. Despite President Biya’s claim in January that armed separatist groups had surrendered and the threat they posed had significantly diminished, HRW noted, “They saw continued violence for a sixth year.”
“Abusive army raids and killings of civilians may also have been perpetrated against individuals suspected of being separatists or in retaliation for attacks against army positions,” HRW said.
Since the violence erupted in 2016, the report highlighted that at least 6,000 civilians have lost their lives due to the actions of both government and separatist forces.
The Far North region, grappling with militants from Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) since 2009, witnessed 246 attacks last year. Non-state actors, primarily Islamist groups, were responsible for the killing of at least 169 civilians, according to HRW.
In a recent development, three aid workers from the French NGO Premiere Urgence Internationale were abducted on Wednesday in the Far North, where the borders of Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon converge. The situation in Cameroon’s troubled regions remains a pressing concern, with ongoing violence and humanitarian crises demanding immediate attention and intervention.