Cameroon’s Unfolding Catastrophe | Report

Full Report (PDF)

On June 3, 2019, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa released their long awaited  joint report, “The Unfolding Crisis in Cameroon” . The report highlights the ongoing crisis between the minority Anglophone community and the government and provides provides evidence of widespread and systemic atrocities that have taken place since 2016. The report signals that immediate attention is needed from the international community to prevent further atrocities, save lives, protect civilians and ensure accountability. The report calls for dialogue to restore peace and an independent and impartial investigation to identify and hold accountable the perpetrators of crimes.


The Anglophone population in the Republic of Cameroon is experiencing a human rights catastrophe in the South West and North West regions of the country, home to most English speaking Cameroonians. While there have been disputes and conflicts in these regions for decades, there has been a sharp escalation of serious violence, crime, and human rights violations since the crisis began in late 2016.

This report aims to provide an evidence-based characterization of the conflict and its consequences from a legal perspective, particularly with respect to serious human rights violations committed by Cameroon government forces. Significantly, the report concludes that reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Cameroon exist. The analysis underscores the need for immediate action to prevent further atrocities, protect civilian populations, and seek accountability.

The report focuses on events from October 2016 to May 2019.

Human rights groups and international organizations have reported deteriorating political, humanitarian, and security conditions as a result of extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, severe deprivations of liberty, and mass displacements of civilian populations. International, regional, and domestic actors, such as the United Nations, the International Crisis Group (ICG), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, among others, as well as the media and Cameroonian human rights organizations, including the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA), have been reporting on the crisis and expressing grave concern.

More than 200 villages have been partly or completely destroyed, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee. The rate of attacks on villages has increased steadily, usually causing significant damage.

Between 450,000 and 550,000 people have been displaced as a result of the crisis, representing about 10 percent of the regions’ population. An additional 30,000 to 35,000 people have sought asylum in neighbouring countries.

Noted author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie refers to the crisis as Cameroon’s “carnage.”[1]

There is evidence that much of the violence is intentional and planned, including retaliation attacks on villages by government security forces, often followed by indiscriminate shooting into crowds of civilians, invasions of private homes and murder of their inhabitants, and the rounding up and shooting of villagers. Violence against women has been widely reported.

Non-state actors, including local armed groups, also bear much responsibility for the violence. Separatist militias are battling government forces, while two organizations have been directing separatists from outside Cameroon to fight not only against Cameroonian security forces, but also against pro-government “self-defence” groups. Meanwhile, criminal gangs terrorize local inhabitants, wreaking havoc.

The crisis in the Anglophone regions is not simply an internal conflict. As this report demonstrates, the military is conducting a deliberate, violent campaign against civilian populations. Moreover, the existence of internal conflict does not absolve or minimize Cameroon’s responsibilities under domestic and international law to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights, to fulfill its positive duties to protect civilians during security operations, and to ensure the human rights of those arrested and detained are protected.

It is sometimes argued that the current crisis is just one more conflict in a series of reciprocal attacks and reprisals between government and secessionist forces. However, minimizing the seriousness of the attacks on civilians as part of the “normal” conflict serves to shield serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity and may even enable their continuation. Minimizing the conflict also ignores evidence that the violence is spreading, engulfing Francophone regions of the country, becoming a threat to the entire sub-region. [2]

Certain media outlets and social media have played a troubling role in Cameroon. On the one hand, social media has been used to expose the severity of the killings and abuse, using video materials to record events, often in real time. On the other hand, hate speech and incitement to violence and discrimination are propagated by government officials and radicalized separatist groups. Government officials refer to protesters in dehumanizing or incendiary terms, such as “dogs” and “terrorists.” [3] Anglophones living in the Francophone regions sense resentment, if not hatred, from the Francophone population. [4] Local armed defence groups and certain members of the diaspora have fanned the flames of intolerance and hatred, creating a real barrier to resolution of the conflict by moderates who are attempting to resolve the crisis.