By Eric Tataw – Washington DC, USA – Tuesday, December 10, 2019.
Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization, headquartered in New York City, that conducts research and advocacy on human rights says violence in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions has intensified since July 2019.
The organisation furthers that the violence escalated in August after a military court in the Central African country’s capital of Yaoundé handed down life sentences to 10 leaders of the separatist Ambazonia Interim Government following a flawed trial.
Human Rights Watch made this statement, Tuesday, December 10, 2019, as the world celebrates Human Rights Day. The organisation thinks concrete action is needed to make the humanitarian response to the crisis in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon more inclusive of people with disabilities.
Human Rights Watch also said in September 2019, the United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs made a commitment to make the humanitarian response more inclusive, but the commitment needs to be translated into action on the ground.
Shantha Rau Barriga, Disability Rights Director at Human Rights Watch cautioned that the crisis in the Anglophone regions shows no sign of slowing, adding people with disabilities are struggling to find safety and face heightened risks of attacks, displacement, and abandonment.
“Cameroonian authorities and armed separatists should stop their abuses against civilians, while international organizations should fulfil their promises to those most affected by the crisis, including people with disabilities,” Barriga added.
The organisation also revealed it has interviewed 24 people with disabilities living in the Anglophone regions, their family members, as well as representatives of UN agencies and of national and international humanitarian organizations.
Reports from the interviews according to Human Rights Watch indicate people with disabilities are more likely to be exposed to danger from attacks, including because of barriers to escaping and staying out of harm’s way, and because of the degradation of whatever support systems existed before the crisis.
In one case, on September 19, Cameroonian security forces searching for armed separatists attacked a locality called “Number One Water” near the town of Muyenge, South-West region, killing four civilian men, including a man with an intellectual disability, said the Rights group.
A witness to the attack said people fled when the military arrived and started shooting: “I hid in the nearby bush and I went back when things calmed down the same day. I found four bodies on the ground and helped bury them.
Among those killed, there was a man called ‘Jasper,’ who had an intellectual disability, which is the reason why he stayed behind. The military killed him in front of his hut. His body was partly burned because the military also set his hut on fire,” Human Rights Watch quoted an eyewitness.
Human Rights Watch also quoted a 65-year-old farmer with a physical disability who saw soldiers from the Rapid Intervention Battalion (Bataillon d’intervention rapide, BIR), an elite squad of Cameroon Army destroy at least seven homes, including his, when they attacked his village, Nchum, North-West region, on October 30, 2019.
The humanitarian response in Cameroon is severely underfunded, exacerbating the risks of people with disabilities whose basic needs, including food, shelter, sanitation, health, and education, are not being met. Human Rights Watch said, quoting the UN Resident Coordinator for Cameroon, Allegra Baiocchi.
Human Rights Watch again said the crisis in the North-West and South-West regions began in late 2016, when teachers, lawyers, students, and activists, who had long complained of their regions’ perceived marginalization by the central government, took to the streets to demand more recognition of their political, social, and cultural rights.
“The brutal response by government forces – who killed peaceful protesters, arrested leaders, banned civil society groups and blocked the internet – escalated the crisis. Since then, numerous separatist groups have emerged calling for the independence of the Anglophone regions and using force to press their cause. Government forces and armed separatists have both been responsible for serious human rights abuses,” the organisation said.