A year and a half after the launch in October 2017 of military operations in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions in response to secessionist claims and assassination of uniformed officers, both regions, formerly called British Southern Cameroons, have witnessed the worst humanitarian crisis since its 1961 independence.
Late in 2017 and early in 2018, several armed groups were formed to respond to military operations and others were formed on grounds that they want to send away colonial forces and public administrators of the central government, and international organizations rightfully stated that there are about 20 armed groups operating in the two Anglophone Regions, where some localities are “No Go” zones for the armed forces because they are either partially or totally controlled by armed groups.
It is very sad to report that numerous executions have occurred, and the government has often gone silent about these happenings. Several families have lost one or more close ones, and Amnesty International reported on 18 September 2018 that over 400 people have lost their lives in the Anglophone Crisis, where 160 of them are uniformed officers, and 240 are civilians.
Abductions have oftentimes ended with the release of abductees, while at other times, they have resulted in their assassination. Absence of investigations to track, apprehend and judge suspects of such heinous crimes, coupled with outdated tactics of monitoring the application of international conventions applicable in wartime, have cost the lives of many innocent civilians and Cameroonians involved in this unending war.
On 1 October 2017, the government led massive mixed military operations in the two English-speaking Regions, starting with Mamfe, consisting of defense and security forces comprising the police’s Special Rapid Intervention Unit (ESIR), the national gendarmerie and the army’s Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), to dismantle what they assumed was a potential threat to national security. This operation, according the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on 30 October 2017, led to the displacement of over 2,000 refugees, where 3,000 were awaiting registration and an estimated 40,000 others were projected as potentially living in forests or attempting to cross Nigerian borders while fleeing ongoing conflicts in the two Anglophone Regions.
It is important to underline that on 20 March 2018, the UNHCR reported that 20,000 people had already been displaced due to this crisis. And on 11 October 2018, 7 months later, it further remarked that there was a 23% increase in the number of Cameroonian refugees displaced to Nigeria because of same crisis.
Even though the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has recorded 160,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) as a result of this armed conflict by 29 May 2019, the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) published a report on 25 August 2018 where it asserted that 411,358 people were displaced by the current crisis in both Regions. Between October 2017 to October 2018, a period of one year, there is a 92% increase on the initial number of refugees in both regions, which has to raise an alarm before government and international bodies.
Cameroon’s Plan d’Assistance Humanitaire d’Urgence dans les Régions du Nord-Ouest et Sud-Ouest 2018/2019 launched on 20 June 2018 to provide humanitarian assistance to 74,994 IDPs for an estimated +22 million USD is a mockery to IDPs because OCHA in a similar humanitarian assistance plan evaluated its aid to 160,000 IDPs at a value of 15,5 million USD, far lesser than Cameroon’s but reaching out to more than double Cameroon’s targeted beneficiaries. Cameroon’s plan does not consider that hostilities against civilians is the major reason for displacement. It does not also state whether the government intends to use dialogue or end hostilities as a solution to the humanitarian crisis.
The increase in the number of displaced persons are on one part due to the rise in military operations, with new, ongoing and aggravating conflicts, and on another part because of the deliberate raids and arsons on urban and rural settlements in both regions. In one of its last reports in 2018, CHRDA reported that 170 settlements were raided, with 113 being severe.
The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) which Cameroon at the moment is last of the 27 to have ratified in May 2017 imposes primary duty and responsibility on her to provide humanitarian assistance to IDPs, regardless of their age, gender, national or ethnic origins. Besides providing humanitarian assistance, Cameroon also has an obligation to carry out an assessment of the needs and vulnerabilities of IDPs, including cooperating with other organizations to ensure that protection is provided to all and sundry.
By IDP, the Convention refers to persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, as result of or to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights and have not crossed international borders. This definition is broad and is not exclusively stationed on persons living in bushes or IDP camps. It includes students who have fled and abandoned their schools and places of residents, businessmen and women who have abandoned their businesses to flee to safer zones, teachers and other public servants who have abandoned their duty stations to seek refuge in safer localities and civilians who have abandoned their occupations. With this precision, it broadens the scope of protection, in favor of CHRDA’s latest report on the upsurge of IDPs, with a figure of +550,000. Several IDPs now live in homes with their relatives, while others now rent in houses in new locations. It is important to outline that these persons are equally IDPs and need equal protection.
The homes of IDPs have been destroyed, their relatives and even some of them displaced beyond national borders, killed, abducted, and recruited by armed groups, while the basic needs of ones living in deplorable conditions have neither fully nor partially been met.
Cameroon’s assistance plan envisaged that the Ministry of Defense will “rehabilitate” the burnt down or destroyed homes of 10,000 families at a cost of XAF 500,000 (about $870) per home, for a period of 18 months from June 2018. But 9 months after, there have not been any follow-up report attesting that this project has effectively been launched and is materializing on the field. What leaves one believe this action plan has been poorly prepared is the simple fact that either the plan corroborates the burning down or destruction through the recklessness of the army or the irresponsibility of the armed groups of 10,000 homes (thereby suggesting gross human rights violations by both parties to the conflict), or that the implementers of this project believe they will honestly spend all the XAF 5 billion allocated for this project without embezzling all or part of this sum and return any unspent amount. The delay to kickstart this important phase of Cameroon’s self-attributed share of humanitarian assistance to IDPs is a mere indication on one hand of its unpreparedness to protect IDPs and on the other hand, leaves one suggest corruption is at the helm of this abandonment of its IDPs.
Budgeting for the rehabilitation of the homes of IDPs depend very much on the field study carried out to determine the amount of damages and estimated cost of repairs. Some homes may have costs of repairs ten times the per-home planned budget meanwhile others may need very little retouch. The action plan has simply not been done after a fact-finding mission in disregard of Cameroon’s obligations to assess needs and to provide for those needs. This poor field study increases the prospects of Cameroon consciously embarking on an impossible mission.
In Rwanda, in the city of Kigali, the government constructed a model village to accommodate 324 people in the district of Gasabo in Gikomero. It took the Rwandan government 10 months and Rwf 930 million (close to XAF 600 million) for its Rwanda Defense Reserve Force to complete these 8 in 1 homes for its displaced population formerly living in high risk zones. If Cameroon’s plan relies only on the rehabilitation (and not the reconstruction) of 10,000 homes, it simply means this can be done in the 18 months with more human resource. But we are already 9 months late. The government is undermining the fundamental right to housing of its own people.
Cameroon has obligations to ensure that IDPs are not attacked, killed, rendered homeless, recruited or held captive, by prosecuting suspects of such acts. Government should ensure that IDPs freely receive unhampered protection and assistance, necessary for satisfactory living conditions of dignity, security, sanitation, food, water, health and shelter, with particular attention to the rights of women and children. They are equally free to travel and flee ongoing conflicts or potential threats to their life and security. Local government authorities, including the Governors, Senior Divisional Officers, Divisional Officers and Mayors, have obligations not to coerce or intimidate residents in conflict zones to remain in these risky zones because it perpetuates human rights violations. Through these, these authorities are called upon to adopt measures that seek to protect the rights of IDPs and ensure their freedoms are guaranteed. Government can provide protection by issuing new birth certificates and national identity cards to all IDPs who lost theirs after fleeing armed conflicts, including providing duplicates of academic certificates/diplomas to persons who lost theirs.
With the rising number of IDPs in both regions, Ms Allegra Baiocchi, Humanitarian Coordinator in Cameroon, decried that the “humanitarian needs in Cameroon have never been greater,” with 437,000 IDPs affected by insecurity, representing 65% of the total number of IDPs across the national territory. Last year in May 2018, the estimated assistance budget for IDPs stood at $15 million. But in a recent report published on 21 February 2019, OCHA deplored the escalation of the budget for humanitarian aid which has risen to $93 million (6 times the amount budgeted 9 months ago), depicting a rise in the needs of IDPs in both regions. However higher the needs of IDPs have become, a fluctuation of the assistance budget has not incited the Cameroon government to review its June 2018 humanitarian assistance plan, which is unfit for current trends.
This analyzed, the Cameroon government began showing its interests in the protection of its IDPs but as time elapsed, these interests became history because of government’s preference for military interventions. No new action plan has been drafted to reflect the contemporaneous needs of IDPs from the Anglophone Regions but for OCHA’s assistance plan and even though few is seen to be done by Cameroon with the supply of humanitarian aid, much has either been willfully abandoned or recklessly carried out, thereby creating a great gap in humanitarian protection affecting more than 400,000 innocent Cameroonians whose only crime was to flee to protect their lives and those of their families. If nothing is done to halt military interventions and protracted conflicts, the number of IDPs may skyrocket to a more alarming rate by 31 December 2019.