US likely ‘complicit’ in Cameroonian Military’s human-rights violation

Americans Were Nearby as Cameroonian Troops Tortured People the United States could be liable for human-rights abuses…

According to Warisboring

In early 2018, a video circulated online appears to show Cameroonian soldiers in military uniforms shooting dead two women and two children for being suspected members of the armed Boko Haram group.

The video, which has since been shared more than 9,000 times on Twitter and watched more that two million times on Youtube, shows two women, one with an infant strapped to her back, being marched by the soldiers. The women are blindfolded and told to sit down alongside their children. Moments later, two men step back, level their rifles and killed them in cold blood.

Cameroonian security forces have repeatedly been involved in human-rights violations. In 2017, Amnesty International documented 101 instances of Cameroonian forces torturing people they suspected of supporting militant group Boko Haram.

Despite repeated allegation of human rights abuses by the authoritarian Paul Biya regime, the United States still continues to support, train and arm Cameroonian forces.

United States forces in Cameroon

On October 2015, at the invitation of the Cameroonian government, President Barack Obama said 90 military personnel will be deployed to Cameroon ahead of the arrival of additional troops “to conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations in the region”.

“The total number of US military personnel to be deployed to Cameroon is anticipated to be up to approximately 300, (along with the MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drones)” Obama said.

“These forces are equipped with weapons for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security, and they will remain in Cameroon until their support is no longer needed.”

This US forces would provide intelligence to a multinational task force being composed of troops from Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin – set up to fight the deadly Boko Haram terrorists.

US Special Forces in Cameroon
US Special Forces in Cameroon

In SEPTEMBER 2017, elements of the U.S Military Special Force were spotted in Cameroon fighting Boko Haram.

Boko Haram, which seeks to install Islamic law in Nigeria’s northeast, has launched several devastating attacks in the region for more than seven years, around 240,000 people in the Far North region had so far fled their homes between 2014 and the end of 2017. 

Cameroon’s Brutal Crackdown on Separatists

The Cameroonian government has been accused of allegedly marginalizing Cameroonian citizens in the country’s English-speaking regions.

Anglophones who make up 20% of Cameroon’s 23 million population have been complaining since 2016 that English has been increasingly marginalized, “creating a society where knowledge of French is a necessity to attend the country’s top schools, receive government appointments, or conduct business.”

Soldiers of the 21st Motorized Infantry Brigade patrol in the streets of Buea, South-West Region of Cameroon on April 26, 2018. – A social crisis that began in November 2016 has turned into armed conflict since October 2017. Several small armed groups demand the independence of the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon, bordering Nigeria. (Photo by ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP/Getty Images)

Anglophones have been demanding for more equitable representation in government, fair resource allocation and more recognition for English which is one of the country’s two official languages.

For instance, in 2017, the two Anglophone regions were allocated a combined $153 million of the country’s Public Investment Budget, while the home region of President Paul Biya in the south was allocated more than $225 million, despite having a far smaller population.

The rising inequality and the long-lingering crisis has been threatening to
devolved into a near-civil war. The government’s heavy-handed approach has only likely exacerbated that impact.

Read Also:

  • Cameroon’s anglophone war, A rifle is the only way out.
  • Cameroon’s anglophone war, part 2: Inside the separatist conflict

Amnesty International has documented crimes under international law, some amounting to war crimes, as well as human rights violations by members of the Cameroonian security forces in their fight against the armed group Boko Haram in the Far North region of the country.

This includes the widespread use of torture to extract ‘confessions’ from hundreds of people accused – often with little or no evidence – of being affiliated with Boko Haram.

Political Violence in Anglophone Cameroon (ACLED Data)
Political Violence in Anglophone Cameroon (ACLED Data)

The human rights abuses were allegedly perpetrated by soldiers from the Cameroonian Army and members of the country’s elite unit known as the Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR).

U.S Proxy Warfare in Africa

The Cameroonian Military which is a key local partners for the United States in its fight against terrorism. The Pentagon has described Cameroon as “a vital partner in the fight against Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa and other violent extremist organizations in the Lake Chad Basin region.”

According to the English Oxford Dictionary, Proxy War occurs when a major power instigates or plays a major role in supporting and directing a party to a conflict but does only a small portion of the actual fighting itself.

Dan Byman writes in BROOKINGS that “states use proxies for many reasons, For the United States, the issue is often cost: Locals fight, and die, so Americans do not have to. For many states, however, factors other than cost and fighting power come into plan.”

According to Warisboring, “International humanitarian law hasn’t quite caught up to this shift toward what we call “remote warfare.” But there’s risk that, in this era of proxy warfare, the United States could be held responsible for illegal conduct in operations its forces assist.

Between 2015 and mid-2016, U.S. security assistance for Cameroons’s counter terrorism operations reached more than $130 million. In 2015 there were around 300 U.S. troops at Salek Base, where the majority of the torture and illegal detentions took place.

U.S. knowledge of Cameroonian Military human rights abuses

Although, there are no indication of U.S. troops participated in the detention or torture themselves. Yet their collaboration with, and training of, Cameroonian forces and continued presence in the same base were the tortures takes place raises serious questions about the level of U.S. complicity in the whole affair.

U.S. liability depends on the level of knowledge the United States had of abuses by the Cameroonian authorities. In August 2017, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced that it has not received any report on abuses by the Cameroonian forces.

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) launched an investigation in August 2018, to determine if US personnel were aware of allegations of torture of suspected terrorists being carried out by US-trained Cameroonian troops at a base that was also frequently used by US military advisers. Till date, the result of the investigation has not been made public.

However, Amnesty International insists that foreign personnel in Cameroon “may have been aware of the widespread practices of illegal detention and torture at the base, and whether they took any measures to report it to their hierarchy and to the Cameroonian authorities.”

A senior Cameroonian army official once told reporters that “The Americans are aware of every single thing happening in Salak,” and that “We have an understanding to share information with the American troops working there, and to give them full access to our facilities.”

Granted, the U.S. State Department has warned severally that Cameroon’s most important human-rights abuses perpetrators were security forces torturing and abusing detainees and prisoners.

The U.S. State Department accused Cameroon of “security-force killings, life-threatening prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and detention, prolonged and sometimes incommunicado pretrial detention and infringement on privacy rights.”

Nevertheless, despite the several number of press reports, firsthand accounts, and on-the-ground videos, it’s clear that the Cameroonian Military and more specifically the Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR) are violating Cameroonians’ human rights. However, the United States still refuses to put any form of pressure on Cameroon’s leadership.

U.S. Leahy law could force an end to the Cameroon’s violence

The United States Government could pressure the Authoritarian and brutal Paul Biya regime to end it’s reign of terror by enforcing the so-called Leahy Law, already on the books.

The Leahy Law was passed in 1997 and named for its chief advocate, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, essentially bars the Departments of State and Defense from providing military assistance to foreign security forces that have credible accusations of human rights violations made against them.

The Cameroonian scenario is exactly the types of forces the Leahy Law was designed to target.

U.S. Forces withdrawal from Cameroon

In September 2018, U.S. Defence officials revealed that the country is looking to withdraw hundreds of its troops from Africa as the Trump administration focuses its attention on threats from Russia and  China.

The withdrawal “will include the departure of hundreds of Special Operations troops and their support forces. It will begin in places like Cameroon, where American war planners believe their efforts to train that country’s special operations forces have been largely successful,”

In the just recently concluded election, 85 years old Paul Biya, has easily won a seventh term, according to the Constitutional Council (appointed by Biya).

Biya, won 71.3 percent of the October 7 vote, far ahead of opposition candidate Maurice Kamto’s 14.2 percent. The council, which was appointed by Biya, rejected all 18 legal challenges to the election and defended the process.

The United States continuous support and use of proxy forces to conduct its warfare comes at a risk, especially it’s inability to act when this forces become brutal and reckless, knowing, or at least hoping, that a major power is behind it and would bail them out in the face of trouble. The U.S military might be held responsible for complicity in the human rights abuses perpetrated by it’s proxy partners.

Ekene Lionel

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