A Human Rights Watch report released Monday says separatists in Cameroon are increasingly brutal in their attacks. Human Rights Watch says separatists have committed murders, are using rape as a weapon, and have carried out at least 80 abductions since January.
According to the report, separatists have killed at least seven people, injured six, raped a teenage girl, and committed other grave human rights abuses in the English-speaking western regions this year.
The separatists also torched at least two schools, attacked a university and kidnapped people, including 33 students and five teachers, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Ilaria Allegrozzi, HRW’s central Africa researcher, said an escalation in attacks on civilians, education and health has exacerbated an already dire human rights situation in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions.
“The separatist groups have kidnapped more than 80 people since January and this figure is more likely underestimated compared to the reality on the ground, given the challenges of accessing the regions, but also the widespread fear among the victims to denounce because of possible retaliations and reprisals,” Allegrozzi said. “These are serious human rights abuses and they continue in the context of increasing violence and impunity that facilitates and fuels other abuses.”
HRW said in April, separatists stormed the University of Bamenda campus in the Northwest region, shooting in the air, causing panic among students and teachers, and leading to a stampede that injured at least five people. The report said fighters attacked the university for not observing a lockdown imposed by separatists.
In April, armed separatists kidnapped 33 Roman Catholic seminary students for ransom in Bachuo-Ntai, Southwest region, HRW said.
Capo Daniel, deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, ADF, one of the separatist groups named in the report, said fighters alone should not be blamed for the human rights abuses.
“Criminal gangs have taken maximum advantage of the chaos of his war to carry out kidnapping for ransom,” Daniel said. “While there have been some few cases that involved Ambazonia forces, it has mainly been as a result of lack of command and control by factions within our struggle that do not take their responsibility over those forces and Cameroon is ultimately responsible for the chaos.”
Daniel said the ADF has laid out a code of conduct that forbids fighters from committing crimes, and has punished fighters who committed offenses, including rape.
HRW says in February fighters attacked a vehicle of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health services, killing a female nurse, and injuring another female nurse and a male doctor according to the report.
The rights group also said separatists killed a Doctors Without Borders health worker in the Southwest region, after accusing him of collaborating with the military.
HRW said since the conflict began in 2017, government troops have also committed human rights violations, including torching of houses and villages, torture, rape, mistreatment and incommunicado detentions.
The Cameroonian government has denied the claims.
Separatists in English-speaking western Cameroon launched their rebellion in 2017, with the stated goal of separating from the French-speaking majority country and setting up an independent state.
The conflict has killed more than 3,300 people and displaced more than 750,000 others, according to the U.N.