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Sharon Hofisi Legal Letters
Harriet Paterson of Caritas, an organisation which deals with refugees, interviews a man who says, “I am already a dead man” because of the Cameroonian crisis. What is sad for humanity is simply that the crisis has now forced about 160 000 people out of their homes into the bush (ibid).
The roof over their head is the sky and cold weather. The right to shelter or decent living threatens the lives of vulnerable communities such as women and children.
Further, about 26 000 refugees have also been forced to cross into Nigeria as they feel that they are being stalked by death and fear back home.
Whether a person speaks French or English has become the shibboleth reason to kill. Yet the world through the United Nations (UN) or the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and Africa through the African Union (AU) seems to procrastinate in responding to the crisis.
Procrastination is not stealing time in Cameroon. It is taking away vital human lives. The international community must urgently unite to end or at least react to the Cameroonian crisis steeped in the Francophone and Anglophone divisions on how to divide the sovereign state into two territories.
The political roots of the conflict may be traced to the declaration of the independence of “Ambazonia” in southern Cameroon. Detailed factors can be obtained courtesy of presentations by Ballar (2017) under the auspices of Chatham House and Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
As has been the case with most internal armed conflicts, the Cameroonian crisis started with peaceful protests in Bamenda. Serious clashes between security forces and protesters led to deaths of some people. With Cameroon’s Communications Minister dismissing the clashes as a non-issue in 2016 (Corey-Boulet 2016), the situation has now escalated to demand urgent attention from the international community.
Whether the crisis is analysed from pan-Africanism, sub-regional or regional stability, global security or international law, it clearly provides the general observer with the need to raise pertinent questions on why the international community is largely not taking steps to avert another “Rwanda” in Africa.
From an international legal justice perspective, the Cameroonian situation demands that actors in human rights and humanitarian law must use their expertise and voices to make the international community responsive, decisive, and do some introspection and avoid impunity. Do we want to pursue perpetrators years after the sad loss of human life? No! In the interests of global justice and peace, we want to see preventive action from global, regional and sub-regional actors which commit to peace, security and stability. Preventive justice and good offices must be prioritised in this regard.
Judging from the seemingly endemic nature of the current crisis, there is need to draw practical lessons from the 1994 Rwandan genocide, where about 800 000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu died following the international community’s reluctance to act promptly to prevent the atrocities.
Of course, several reasons have been given for the international community’s inaction in Rwanda: complexity of African conflicts, the bureaucratic nature of the UN, UN peacekeeping fatigue, lack of common regional voice in Africa and the shadow of Somalia.
Added to the above was the lack of national interests for United Nations Security Council members such as the United States to intervene (Maritz 2012).
France, which had interests, was accused of having contributed to the Rwandan crisis (ibid).
Further, at national level, the Rwandan citizens did not exert internal pressure on the policy makers to end the atrocities (ibid).
As a result, the sanctity of human life was wantonly disregarded. Even the establishment of the ad hoc tribunal, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) did not effectively bring restorative justice to the Rwandan victims.
Cameroon is not immune from the spillover effects of conflicts in its bordering states such as Nigeria (Boko Haram) and the Central African Republic. Before its affiliation to ISIS, Boko Haram was considered deadlier than ISIS, causing terrorist-related deaths in 2014 and 2015.
The growth of militant or extremist groups in Cameroon doubtlessly demands that the Cameroonian situation be taken seriously and the internationalcommunity must move to craft effective strategies to combat impunity in the continuing killings and other serious crimes that are being committed.
Firstly, a human security focus is needed if transitional justice is to be realised in the event of a successful breakaway of the Anglophone territory.
Secondly, it must be realised that unchecked through branches of international law such as international human rights (IHRL) or international humanitarian law, the situation is gradually escalating into an internal armed conflict at a rate that would lead to serious ethnic and religious-related deaths.
As such, and most importantly, supranational bodies such as the UN or institutions such as the International Committee of the Red Cross must urgently move to benchmark the nature of the Cameroonian conflict using the triangle of human rights, peace and security or IHL principles such as proportionality and distinction. This is important in regulating the belligerent conduct of the rivals in the conflict. Alternatively, in the absence of an African court to deal with IHL violations, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) can move to investigate the Cameroonian situation.
Thirdly, the crime of terrorism must be expressly included in the Rome Statute and other international conventions that bear on the development of the jurisprudence of IHL. The link between IHL and terrorism-related aspects such as fundamentalism or extremism must also be clearly explained. It is argued here that although international humanitarian law is largely reactive in nature, there is nothing amiss in taking proactive steps to configure conflicts and devise workable solutions to prevent incessant conflicts.
Fourthly, the legal nature of secession or internal self-determination through internal agreements or third party negotiations must be seen as a necessary tool to save many lives.
Pan-Africanism must be used as was witnessed when Sudan allowed South Sudan to become the newest state in Africa and regard was had to the ethnic and religious dimensions of the civil war. Nationally, Cameroon must not wait for a full-fledged civil war. Regionally, Africa must not take comfort in being seen as a permanent residence of civil wars, repressive regimes or coups. I do not see why the establishment of another new state in southern Cameroon can be a problem considering that the union was a marriage of convenience in the first instance.
By 1922, Cameroon was officially shared by France and Britain and the erstwhile colonisers can be instrumental in ending the territorial impasse currently obtaining there. Even Germany or other European states which have influenced Cameroon’s political history such as Portugal and Netherlands may be instrumental in the resolution of the current gridlock.
Fifthly, Africa must seize the opportunity to demonstrate its preparedness to be part of the global peace and security governance under the UNSC.
One way to achieve this aim is through the use of the African countries that are in the UNSC. They must use their voices to move the UNSC either to refer the situation to the ICC or to take some action.
Another way is to tap from the spirit of the Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration on security, development, cooperation and stability within the region. The UNSC can only be reformed in a way that includes Africa if Africa, particularly the AU, demonstrates to the world that it can effectively deal with regional crises. Alternatively, countries that are seen as front runners in the race to be included in the UNSC must add their voice on how to deal with the Cameroonian situation.
South Africa has effectively used third party conflict resolution procedure to move for secession and promote sub-regional stability in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Former South African presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma allowed Zimbabwean political parties to form a Government of National Unity in 2009.
Other countries like Nigeria may find it difficult to champion secession as a solution for Cameroon due to reasons such as the Biafra factor and the threats from the Islamic State for West African Province, popularly known as Boko Haram. These threats to Nigerian sovereignty are extant but perhaps the migrant and refugee crisis that has been occasioned by the Cameroonian crisis should encourage Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States to act promptly in averting a sub-regional crisis.