Arria-formula Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Cameroon
On Monday (13 May), Security Council members will hold an Arria-formula meeting on “the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon”, organised by the Dominican Republic, Germany, the UK and the US. Panellists will be Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland, and Esther Omam Njomo, the Executive Director of Reach Out Cameroon, a local not-for-profit organisation focused on the well-being of underprivileged groups in Cameroon, such as women and children. Council members will be invited to speak, and other member states, permanent observers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) may attend and may request to speak. A chair’s summary of the meeting is expected.
According to the concept note circulated ahead of the meeting, its focus is the humanitarian impact of violence and insecurity in Cameroon. Cameroon now has the 6th largest displaced population in the world, three million people are food insecure, and more than 1.5 million people need emergency health assistance. The objective is to raise awareness of the situation and to consider practical steps to be taken for an effective humanitarian response, including with regard to the protection of civilians, particularly of the most vulnerable populations, and respect for international humanitarian law.
Difficult internal and regional dynamics have contributed significantly to the humanitarian challenges in Cameroon. Since late 2016, there has been unrest in Cameroon’s anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions, rooted in claims of long-standing political and economic discrimination by the francophone authorities against the minority anglophone population. The government has rejected calls by separatists for independence; neither side has demonstrated a genuine willingness to find a compromise. (For an in-depth analysis of the situation, see International Crisis Group, “Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis: How to Get to Talks?”, Report No. 272/Africa, 2 May 2019). On 6 May, following a visit to Cameroon, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said: “the challenges are immense, and the situation involving some ten or more separatist movements in the North-West and South-West regions risks spiraling completely out of control, if serious measures are not taken to reduce tensions and restore trust.”
According to the Secretary-General’s latest UN Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) report (S/2018/1065), continued fighting between security forces and armed elements in the anglophone regions have caused several casualties, as civilians, including children, have been victims of extrajudicial killings, abductions, restrictions of movement, and limited access to healthcare and education. There have also been reports of torture, rape, sexual exploitation and the destruction of property, including schools, in anglophone areas. As a result of a ‘no school’ policy pursued by the separatists, the majority of children in the affected areas have been deprived of their right to education, and children are vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups.
According to the concept note, violent clashes between the authorities and armed anglophone separatists have driven more than 560,000 Cameroonians from their homes, including 32,000 refugees in Nigeria and approximately 530,000 IDPs. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) have reportedly sought refuge in the forests and lack access to basic services, while human rights and humanitarian actors have continued to face access restrictions in the regions, leaving them unable to monitor the situation effectively. At the same time, Cameroon hosts some 280,000 refugees from the Central African Republic, and more than 100,000 refugees from northeast Nigeria live in Cameroon’s Far North Region. According to various sources, the population of the Far North region, which also includes some 250,000 IDPs, has been subjected to killings, kidnappings and plundering at the hands of Boko Haram, which remains active in this region.
Cameroon is not on the Security Council’s agenda, and the Council has thus far addressed the crisis in Cameroon through its consideration of the Secretary-General’s reports on UNOCA. During his last briefing to the Council on 13 December 2018 (S/PV.8421), Special Representative and head of UNOCA François Louncény Fall said that he remained “deeply concerned over the acute humanitarian situation…and the massive displacement caused by the crisis in the North-West and South-West regions of the country”, while welcoming recent efforts by Cameroon to improve humanitarian access. He also expressed concern about the worsening human rights situation in these areas. OCHA’s Director for Operations and Advocacy Reena Ghelani spoke to the “deteriorating situation with respect to the protection of civilians, including reported killings, the burning of homes and villages, extortion and kidnappings in the South-West and North-West regions of Cameroon.” “There have been multiple attacks on schools and threats against students and teachers”, she added.
In the 13 December meeting, Cameroon featured in the interventions of several Council members who expressed contrasting views on Council engagement on this issue. The UK and the US devoted the majority of their statements to Cameroon. The UK stated that “unless action is taken and the situation improves, concern over the situation in Cameroon is likely to increase among Security Council members and become a more prominent part of our discussions”. The US recalled that S/PRST/2018/17 called for a strategic review of UNOCA’s mandate by 1 August 2019, saying that it would work to ensure that this mandate “is appropriately focused on the most pressing political challenges in the Central African region”. On the other hand, while noting with concern the reports coming out of Cameroon, Russia warned that: “it is important not to cross the line between prevention and intervention in States’ internal affairs. There is every evidence that a number of our colleagues have come very close to that. For the time being we have every reason to believe that Cameroon is capable of dealing with this tricky issue by itself. We are willing to help, but only if our partners in Cameroon deem it necessary.”
This disparity in views on how to address the underlying political turmoil was also evident in the negotiations on the 10 August 2018 presidential statement on the Central African region (S/PRST/2018/17). During the negotiations, a couple of Council members felt that the text should include a paragraph dedicated to the situation in Cameroon. Some Council members pushed back, however, including two permanent members. Ultimately, while the text does not include a separate paragraph on Cameroon, it does mention the country three times, including a reference to the Council’s deep concern over “the worrying recent increase in violence in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon”.