Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Central Africa and the activities of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa – Excerpts Concerning Postcolonial Cameroon and the Struggles of the English-Speaking Extract in Particular.
- In Cameroon, social unrest continued in the North-West and South-West regions over the imposition of the French language in judicial, educational and other fields. While the initial protests in late 2016 were related to grievances expressed by unions representing lawyers and teachers, accusations expanded to include historical, political and economic discrimination against the anglophone population. Numerous clashes with security forces took place, along with ongoing general strikes (also referred to as “ghost towns”), arrests of anglophone activists and an Internet blackout in the two regions (from 17 January to 20 April 2017).
- Government efforts to appease those tensions at the outset were not successful. On 17 January, it banned the activities of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium and the secessionist movement, the Southern Cameroons National Council, accusing them of conducting actions contrary to the Constitution and aimed at undermining State security. Leaders of the Consortium, Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla and Fontem Aforteka’a Neba, were also arrested on 17 January, and journalist and activist Mancho Bibixy on 20 January. All three face charges of terrorism and, if convicted, could face the death penalty under the country’s anti-terrorism law of February 2014. The trial of the three lead activists and five others, all civilians, commenced on 13 February at the Yaoundé military tribunal. On 7 April, the court adjoined the case of 25 other defendants. Meanwhile, another military tribunal was held, in the case of a reporter for Radio France Internationale, Ahmed Abba, whom the Government alleges to have colluded with Boko Haram. He had been in detention since 30 July 2015. The defendant, who pleaded not guilty, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on 20 April 2017.
- On 15 March, the President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, appointed the president and 13 representatives of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, which he established on 23 January. The Presidency also contacted the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium on 17 March, expressing willingness to engage in dialogue to address their grievances. Moreover, on 30 March, the Minister of Justice unveiled a number of measures taken by the Government to address the crisis, including the creation of a common law section at the École nationale de magistrature, English law departments at a number of universities, the redeployment of magistrates according to linguistic criteria, and the appointment of additional anglophone magistrates at the High Court. Those steps were deemed insufficient by the striking lawyers and the leadership of the Consortium, who continued to demand the immediate release and pardon of those detained and the restoration of Internet service in the two regions where it had been blocked. Internet service was restored on 20 April.
Human rights trends
- Violations of human rights continued in many countries of the subregion. The excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests and the detention of political opponents, civil society activists and media practitioners illustrate a trend of the continued narrowing of the democratic and political space in the subregion. The climate of impunity that prevails in some States remains a concern and represents a serious impediment to the creation of an environment conducive to the holding of peaceful electoral processes and smooth democratic transitions.
- In Cameroon, a peaceful demonstration held on 28 November by students from the University of Buea was repressed by security forces, who resorted to the excessive use of force, coupled with arbitrary arrests and detention. On 8 December, protests organized by youth groups in Bamenda, the capital of the North-West region, escalated when police and security forces used tear gas and water cannons against protesters, before eventually opening fire. At least two protesters were killed and four police officers injured. A police precinct was burned down and Government vehicles were set ablaze. There have also been other violations of the rights to freedom of expression and association, peaceful assembly and access to information, including the arrests and detention of journalists, as well as the shutdown of Internet and two radio stations in Bamenda and Buea between mid-January and mid-April.
- From 1 to 3 February, my Special Representative travelled to Yaoundé for consultations with national authorities on the situation in Cameroon, particularly in the anglophone regions, and the fight against Boko Haram. He met the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization and civil society actors. He stressed the need for a peaceful solution to the situation and reiterated United Nations support to the efforts of the Lake Chad basin countries in fighting terrorism. Prior to his mission, a working-level team from UNOCA travelled to the country to hold discussions with stakeholders and explore possible entry points for United Nations support.
- My Special Representative travelled to Yaoundé again from 9 to 13 April, where he met senior Government representatives, opposition figures and civil society actors, as well as the detained leaders of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, to encourage them to engage in dialogue in order to peacefully address the crisis. During his visit, he encouraged the Government to consider carrying out additional confidence-building measures to further defuse tensions, including the release of the anglophone leaders and the restoration of Internet services as a sign of goodwill. He further urged the authorities to fully implement the measures announced in the justice sector. My Special Representative found the imprisoned leaders of the Consortium to be in good form. They informed him that they were well treated and underlined that they were against secession. They further expressed their readiness to call for the suspension of the strike upon their release should the Government give its assurances that it would address the grievances of the anglophone regions through dialogue. My Special Representative conveyed the request to the Cameroonian authorities, reiterating his call for their release, while also exhorting all parties to resort to dialogue. He further reiterated the Organization’s willingness to provide good offices in this regard, if requested by the parties.
Observations and recommendations
I encourage all stakeholders to work with each other in good faith to find lasting solutions to political, social and economic challenges. In this regard, I welcome the steps taken by the Government of Cameroon to address concerns raised by the aggrieved parties in the North-West and South-West regions of the country and I encourage the Government to continue to address the situation in a proactive and peaceful manner (page 16).