By Monica C. Nkenganyi
AmbaNews24 Correspondent – New York, USA
An independent research team of legal experts at the Faculty of Law in the University of Oxford, UK on October 30, 2019 submitted a detailed report to the UK Parliament on the human rights situation in the Cameroon-Ambazonia Conflict in which it called on the British government to adopt a “decolonial approach” in its involvement to resolve the conflict. The call by the world’s famous university is coming at a time when another prestigious school, the University of Boston, in Massachusetts is holding a public discourse on the Ambazonian War of Independence indicating a heighten interest by the academia and other scholarly institutions to find a lasting solutions to the crises.
The team of researchers and public policy advocates include, among others, Dr. Roxana Willis, a Postdoctoral Fellow of the British Academy and Junior Research Fellow in Law, and Dr. James Angove, a Researcher and Lecturer in Moral and Political Philosophy in the University of Oxford.
The report underlines that the British Government has a “distinctive moral responsibility” to intervene and resolve the ongoing conflict for three reasons: Britain administered Ambazonia (the erstwhile Southern Cameroons) as its colony; the British government played a role in creating the current problem; and the British government has a prolonged and substantial presence in Cameroon through its development organizations, Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) “from pre-independence in 1958 until withdrawal in 2014” when Britain withdrew VSO support in Cameroon. This withdrawal, according to the report might have increased the oppression of the Ambazonian people by the Cameroon government “and exposed an already marginalized population to further encroachment on rights by the state.”
An important remark by the independent research team is that the seeming “identification with the Ambazonian cause is wide reaching.” In other words, a significant majority of the “Anglophone Cameroon” population want their own separate, independent and sovereign state that they call “Ambazonia.”
Specific recommendations that should inform British government’s policy and engagement in the conflict call on the Queen’s government to support efforts to stop the violence, support conflict resolution, support peacebuilders initiatives, ensure a return to the rule of law, and monitor detention conditions of Ambazonian prisoners of war.
On the critical and most important question of how to provide a sustainable solution to the conflict, the Oxford University Experts dismiss the recently ended September 2019 Major National Dialogue convened by President Paul Biya of Cameroon as an “elite driven process” that remains “inadequate .” The experts then call on the British Government rather to initiate, foster and support an alternative solution path through the African Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations. Britain is best positioned to lead such multilateral path because of its historical connections to the causes of the conflict, for which it has a moral and historical obligation to resolve.
In regards to the above sustainable solution, the experts called on “the British government to take an active role in supporting the peace negotiations between the francophone and Anglophone parties . . . . This includes not preventing the remit of the dialogue and affording space for historical grievances to be considered so that the Anglophone Problem might finally find resolution. It is pertinent that the British Government adopt a decolonial approach in the conflict resolution process, which necessitates moving beyond surface-level engagements with the tension.”
Noteworthy in this policy recommendation is the clear identification of the parties to the conflict: on the one hand there is the francophone territory and people of Cameroon that was administered by France as a Class B Mandate Trust Territory of the United Nations, and which became independent on January 1, 1960 as the “Republic of Cameroon”; and on the other hand there is the Anglophone territory and people of Ambazonia – also a Class B Mandate United Nations Trust Territory known erstwhile as the “Southern Cameroons” that was administered by Britain, and which the United Nations set its independence day for October 1, 1961. The recognition that the on-going conflict involves two territories and associated peoples of equal standing historically and legally is the starting point of a permanent solution.
The report recommends that the method of arriving at any permanent solution has to be “peace negotiations” as the above statement notes. Peace Negotiation is a process that involves multiple actors, usually politicians, military officials and diplomats, working together to achieve a level of peace and establish a resolution or treaty between the warring or conflicting parties. This implies that on the Ambazonian side, for example, such negotiations must involve what the Ambazonian liberation leader, Dr. Cho Ayaba who is the President of the Ambazonia Governing Council has termed, “the negotiation triangulation” that will involve leaders of Ambazonian movements as “politicians”, leaders of the Ambazonian defense groups as “military officials,” and Ambazonian expert negotiators as “diplomats.”
Examples of Peace Negotiations as documented by the United Nations include Bosnia and Herzegovina process that led to the Dayton Agreement signed in Paris, France in 1995, and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in Naivasha, Kenya in 2005 that led to the independence of South Sudan from Sudan in 2011. Peace negotiations are mediated by international third parties, and the process is usually multinational.
A “decolonial approach” recognizes that the conflict has its roots in the decolonization process of Ambazonia (the erstwhile “Southern Cameroons”), and that Britain has unfinished business associated with the effective decolonization of the territory in a way that respects the United Nation’s resolution on the decolonization and independence of colonized people. The UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) adopted on 14 December 1960 before the decolonization plebiscite of 11 February 1961 states that, “Convinced that all peoples [such as the people of Ambazonia] have an inalienable right to complete freedom, the exercise of their sovereignty and integrity of their national territory,” this Resolution stipulates that:
“ 1) The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation [as the Cameroon government has done to the Ambazonian people for over six decades] constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and co-operation [as the on-going conflict is a significant threat to peace and stability in the Sahel region].
2) All peoples [such as the people of Ambazonia] have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they [the oppressed Ambazonian people] freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
3) Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence – [the British government, unfortunately, used a false claim of economic inadequacy to deny the Ambazonian people independence as a sovereign country, and has the moral responsibility to return an undo the terrible errors of history that have caused the deaths of over 3,000 people in this ongoing conflict]
4) All armed actions [such as the one Cameroon is using now in Ambazonia] or repressive measures of all kind [such as the theft and destruction of Ambazonia’s economy and political institutions by Cameroon for the past 58 years, arbitrary detention and torture of the Ambazonian people, etc] directed against dependent peoples shall cease in order to enable them to exercise peacefully and freely their right to complete independence, and the integrity of their national territory shall be respected.
“Affording space for historical grievances” in the “decolonial approach,” therefore, implies that in its engagement in the peace negotiations process to end the conflict and provide a permanent solution, the British Government should seek respect for the rights of the Ambazonian people to freely determine their own future, their political outlook, and exercise of their own sovereignty and upholding of their own territorial integrity.
On the subject of human rights, the researchers found that the Cameroon state has systematically oppressed the Ambazonian people. While noting alleged cases of kidnappings and arson by non-state armed groups, the report documents with detailed evidence of confessions, pictures and videos that in the ongoing conflict, the Cameroon government has committed vast human rights violations and atrocities that include, among others, widespread property destruction, extra-judicial and unlawful killings, arbitrary and illegal detention, torture, inhumane conditions, arbitrary punishment and humiliation, sexual assault and rape, deprivation of freedom of expression and assembly, and crimes against children that include in one case the mass murder of 25 or more children, some of which appeared to be less than one year old. The case of the shooting to dead of a 2-month old baby in a house in Muyuka by Cameroon soldiers is also part of the report.
On the historical roots of the conflict, the independent team of experts pointed out that Sir Sidney Phillipson, the then British Acting Commissioner of the Southern Cameroons claimed at the United Nations that the Ambazonian territory was not economically viable to be sovereign. The United Nations convinced by this argument dismissed the option for the people of Ambazonia to achieve independence as a sovereign country. The independent research team, however, debunked this latter claim and affirmed that the support for total independence was very popular in the Southern Cameroons, and that this position was widely expressed during a pre-plebiscite conference of all the Southern Cameroons political parties that held in Mamfe in 1958 to discuss the faith of what was then a UN Trust territory under Great Britain’s administration.
The report noted that the removal of the total independence option from the Feb.11, 1961 plebiscite “remains a heated issue of contention” and “questions have been raised about how well-informed voters were ahead of the plebiscite.” The deep historical issues in the conflict have remained “woefully unaddressed to date,” the researchers observe, and until these root causes are addressed there can be no sustainable solution to the conflict.
The scholarly research and policy recommendation paper that expounds on the historical, legal, cultural, and human rights issues underpinning the Ambazonia-Cameroon Conflict is funded by the John Fell Fund, the Global Challenges Research Fund, a Knowledge Exchange Grant, and a University College Visiting Fellowship. It contains 100 pages of written text and an overwhelming video and photographic evidence of the human rights issues in the ongoing conflict.