Separatist groups in Cameroon’s Anglophone region have become increasingly more violent, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Monday.
“Armed separatist groups are kidnapping, terrorizing, and killing civilians across the English-speaking regions with no apparent fear of being held to account by either their own leaders or Cameroonian law enforcement,” Ilaria Allegrozzi, HRW’s senior central Africa researcher, said in the report.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 38 victims and witnesses for the report. The campaign group found that armed separatists had killed at least seven people, burned two schools, attacked a university, raped a girl, and kidnapped up to 82 people since January.
In one case detailed by HRW, separatists stormed a university campus, shot in the air and caused a stampede that injured at least five people. Fighters were retaliating against the university for resisting a lockdown they had declared in the area, reported HRW.
The group also reported that on January 12, separatist fighters killed a taxi driver and an additional civilian unconnected to the fighting.
“These abusive calls trample the basic rights of an already terrorized civilian population,” HRW said.
Allegrozzi called on separatist group leaders to end civilian abuses committed by their fighters:
“Leaders of separatist groups should immediately instruct their fighters to stop abusing civilians and hand over abusive fighters for prosecution,” said Allegrozzi in the report.
However, these actors have only grown more dangerous as fighting has gone on.
At least 26 villagers were also killed by separatists in an attack on Saturday in a village in Cameroon’s Southwest region. An additional 30 villagers were killed on Monday in another attack in Western Cameroon, local sources told Reuters.
HRW’s Allegrozzi requested that Cameroon’s regional and international partners put pressure on the country’s government to protect civilians.
“They should also impose targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, on separatist leaders who bear responsibility for committing abuses,” Allegrozzi said.
Cameroon is embattled in an ongoing civil war between pro-Anglophone and pro-Francophone factions in the country. Both groups are fighting to capture the country’s English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions. Members of Cameroon’s English speaking secessionist movement hope to carve out the two regions and form the independent state of Ambazonia.
Human Rights Watch shared its findings with representatives from three major separatist groups — one leader responded.
There have been more than 6,000 casualties due to Cameroon’s ongoing civil war. Violence in the region has also displaced around a million people, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.