Monica C. Nkenganyi
AmbaNews24, New York, USA
In an unprecedented hearing at the United Nations Security Council today May 13,2019, The Ambazonian people(former British Southern Cameeroons) had their plight and suffering come on the center of the world stage after close to 60 years since their independence was botched with the complicity of the same world body that has called for the hearing in the first place. In what looks like the first day in court to hold Cameroun Republique accountable for its crimes of colonization, genocide and crimes against humanity on the Ambazonian people, the session would make Ambazonian victims of the brutality of French Cameroun Republique like Late Gen. Ivo Mbah and Mami Apih, to smile in their graves to know that they didn’t die in vain. AmbaNews24 lead correspondent was at the Security Council and has produced this minute by minute report on the historic deliberations.
The UN Security Council held a two hours arria formula meeting on Monday, May 13, 2019 on the security and humanitarian catastrophe situation in Ambazonia, often referred to as the South West and North West Regions or the “Anglophone Region” of Cameroun. First introduced in March 1992, an arria formula provides an informal setting in which the Security Council discusses matters of international peace and security with greater flexibility. At the meeting that was organized championed by the USA, a majority of the permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council were in agreement that effectively addressing the humanitarian disaster issue that has caused the United States to call for the meeting would require resolving the root causes of the Ambazonia independence cause on which the crisis, which the humanitarian situation is only a consequence of.
The UN Security Council held a two hours arria formula meeting on Monday, May 13, 2019 on the catastrophic security and humanitarian situation in Ambazonia, often referred to as the South West and North West Regions or the “Anglophone Region” of Cameroun. First introduced in March 1992, an arria formula provides an informal setting in which the Security Council discusses matters of international peace and security with greater flexibility. At the meeting that was organized and championed by the USA, a majority of the permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council were in agreement that effectively addressing the humanitarian disaster issue that has caused the United States to call for the meeting would require resolving the root causes of the Ambazonia independence cause on which the crisis hinges upon.
The people of Ambazonia – the erstwhile UN Trust Territory of the Southern British Cameroons – have been engaged in an intense liberation struggle against Cameroun since 2016. The struggle stems from a failed decolonization process in which the Ambazonian people believe that Cameroun occupied their territory without a legal union treaty on September 30, 1961 and has since then subjected the Ambazonian people to oppression, political exclusion, military brutality, economic deprivation, and systematic taxation without fair representation. They also complain of the destruction of their legal, educational, cultural heritage and identity of their people.
Addressing the Security Council in his opening statement, the Under-Secretary General (USG) for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock insisted that while increase awareness of the humanitarian crisis was necessary, the international community should coalesce around addressing the underlying causes of the ongoing conflict. He called on the Security Council members to influence all parties to respect humanitarian law and grant access to those in needs. The protection of education and health facilities cannot be undermined.
The representative of French Cameroun Republique at the UN, Ambassador Monthe however rejected the call to tackle the underlying root cause of the crisis and instead played victimhood against Cameroun by blaming the Security Council for holding the hearing in first place.
Witnesses Testimony of Human Rights Violations Esther Omam Njomo, the Executive Director of REACH OUT and General Coordinator for the South West and North West Women Task Force, a local non-for-profit organization focused on the well-being of the underprivileged in Cameroon passionately called for an end to the violence that has caused over 40,000 persons to become refugees in Nigeria. She also quoted statistics suggesting that less than 15% of child birth in the territory are attended to by health professionals. She went on with her passionate appeal for action that the conflict had become “an incubator of human rights violations; a source of pain and misery.” While decrying the little global attention being paid to this crisis, she called on the UN and other partners to urgently step up humanitarian aid to the desperate population. She invited the international community to be more present by carrying out regular field visits across the territory. Such a presence she said will provide more accurate data, and enable greater accountability; build stronger partnership between international humanitarian and local partners; provide temporal homes, legal counselling, and field presence; and support genuine talks between the conflicting parties in a bid to “silencing the guns” and achieving sustainable peaceful solutions.
Addressing the Security Council in his opening statement, the USG for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock insisted that while increase awareness of the humanitarian crisis was necessary, the international community should coalesce around addressing the underlying causes of the ongoing conflict. He called on the Security Council members to influence all parties to respect humanitarian law and grant access to those in needs. The protection of education and health facilities cannot be undermined. Esther Omam Njomo, the Executive Director of REACH OUT and General Coordinator for the South West and North West Women Task Force, a local non-for-profit organization focused on the well-being of the underprivileged in Cameroon passionately called for an end to the violence that has caused over 40,000 persons to become refugees in Nigeria, and less than 15% of child birth in the territory attended to by health professionals under the conflict that is “An incubator of human rights violations; a source of pain and misery.” While decrying the little global attention being paid to this crisis, she called on the UN and partners to urgently step up humanitarian aid; provide more effective presence and regular field visits across the territory – this will provide more accurate data, and enable greater accountability; build stronger partnership between international humanitarian and local partners; provide temporal homes, legal counselling, and field presence; and support genuine talks between the conflicting parties in a bid to “silencing the guns” and achieving sustainable peaceful solutions.
Rev. Fr. Paul Fru Njokika, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Bamenda and Director of CARITAS Bamenda highlighted andunderlined that 4million people are affected by the humanitarian crisis that he said is getting worst. He revisited the origin of the crisis how the trade unions led peaceful strikes became an armed conflict in September 2017, when Cameroun military forces used live ammunition on peaceful protesters. The streets of Bamenda he said, are littered with corpses daily, and the disappearance and death of young males is no longer news. The military he went on, has invaded hospitals with firearms. Health professionals have lost their lives, schools such as Presbyterian Secondary School (PSS) Nkwen and St. Augustine College have shutdown amidst the rampant abduction and torture. He pointed out that more than 1,500 houses have been razed down in Bui; over 1,350 homes burnt in Menchum; more than 2000 houses destroyed in Momo; and over 400 houses torched and at least six hospitals completely or partially destroyed in Boyo in a conflict in which the “Cameroun military acts as an instrument of terror to the local people,” he lamented. The Cameroun military, he went on should demilitarize the conflict-ridden territory. He equally invited the United Nations to call for a cease fire, get a neutral party to mediate between the government and pro-independence parties. He warned that all cosmetic solutions hitherto provided should be dropped and the root cause of the revolt addressed.
Dr. Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council who had just returned from Ambazonia insisted that ‘Europe cannot be silent anymore because this conflict has its roots in some of the actions of some European countries’. It should be noted that France and Britain were the mandated masters of Cameroun and present day Ambazonia (Southern British Cameroons) and the botched decolonization process involved both.
Through the policy of assimilation and the creation of France-Afrique, France continues to exert significant control over the political, economic, educational, social, military, and legal systems affairs of Cameroun. He lamented that with 780,000 children being out of school per statistics from the Cameroun Ministries of Education, the little international media interest and collective silence surrounding the atrocities in the territory must be a shocking reality. On a positive note, he said he has contacted the parties and they have expressed their readiness to support humanitarian aid access and assistance.
Speaking to AmbaNews24, Dr. Larry Ayamba, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Ambazonia Governing Council, confirmed that it has never been the policy of the Governing Council “to deprive our suffering Ambazonian people of humanitarian aid.” Rather, the Governing Council has communicated “to power centers at the UN Security Council that the issue of schooling and humanitarian assistance are simply consequences of the underlying problem of the illegal annexation of Ambazonia by Cameroon. Addressing this root cause will ipso facto resolve the consequences permanently. Ambazonia is very rich, and the government of Ambazonia in a sovereign Ambazonia state will take care of its people ones and for all.”
Egeland called on the UN Security Council to take immediate international action to ensure conflict prevention and resolution before it is too late. Attacks on schools, hospitals and homes touch on international law and cannot be permitted. Protecting the population has to be put at the center of this response. ‘The first action should involve protection for school children: it must be possible to de-politicize education’said Dr. Egeland who continued that to do this requires both parties to compromise José Singer Weisinger, the special envoy of the Dominican Republic to the UN who has iterated in the past that trafficking in small arms is of special interest to his country exhorted continental organizations such as the African Union and regional actors to take necessary inclusive dialogue action that promote a definitive peaceful solution and ends the current arm conflict.
Germany’s Ambassador to the UN, Christoph Heusgen, observed that the humanitarian crisis under consideration is comparable to that faced by the people of South Sudan (during its liberation struggle) and the stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar. It should be recalled that the UN Human Rights Council adopted resolutions in 2018 establishing mechanisms to collect evidence of crimes committed in Myanmar against the Rohingya people and extended the mandate of the fact-finding mission there, following the killing of over 10,000 Rohingyas by the Myanmar military.
In Heusgen’s debatable assessment, the situation is not yet an outright war, and can be arrested. Schools and hospitals are being used as instruments of war; but to solve this problem, the root causes must be resolved. He watered down what the government of French Cameroun claims to be doing as not being enough. An inclusive political dialogue he said, must involve the engagement of regional entities of interest and those affected needs to take place. Importantly, he went on, there must be accountability – those who have committed rape and those who have looted and burnt down properties must face justice. This call for justice also was echoed strongly by Ambassador Joanna Wronecka, the Permanent Representative of Poland to the United Nations.
Noting the internal displacement of 520,000 people caused by the ongoing conflict with a disproportionate impact on children, Britain’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Jonathan Allen, remarked the worrying mistrust of aid workers on both sides. He said UN aid workers are often accused of supporting the government; and the government paradoxically also thinks that aid is getting to “separatists.” There is a real risk of a protracted conflict that will spiral into regional violence. He called for the release of political detainees and invited the Security Council to act quickly to de-escalate the conflict, which Britain has already provided US $3.25Million in humanitarian aid; otherwise, the Security Council “will find itself discussing this issue more often”. He further affirmed that the humanitarian situation cannot be handled in isolation from a political solution to achieve a lasting solution – a point that was reiterated by Ambassador Anatolio Ndong Mba of Equatorial Guinea
The Belgian Mission to the UN saluted the apparent current openness to dialogue of the Cameroun government as expressed by the Biya government to Michelle Barchelet Jeria, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during her recent four days working visit to Cameroun. During this visit from May 6, 2019, however, she neither went to Ambazonia to witness the humanitarian crisis firsthand nor held meetings with all parties, including pro-independence actors that are now the reigning majority in the territory and control significant territory. Pledging support for the “One Cameroun” decentralization agenda that fails to take cognizant of the right of the Ambazonia people to external self-determination as provided in the UN Charter, the Belgian Mission like the French after them endorsed the recent cosmetic Dione Ngute’s (prime minister of Cameroun) efforts that Fr. Paul Njokika, who flew into the UN from the terribly affected areas had told them needed to be dropped and the real causes of the conflict addressed.
While the Indonesian Mission to the UN emphasized the need for regional collaborative action that brings all parties to the table for an inclusive dialogue, the Chinese claimed that despite the gross violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, the conflict remains an internal matter within Cameroun. Therefore, there should be no interference in what China sees as the internal matters of Cameroon, which China believes the Cameroun government is already dealing with. China, and Cameroun, were the only two countries that held this position.
Tommo Monthe, Cameroon’s Ambassador to the UN decried the very holding of the aria meeting, which he perceived as a collusion of some countries to exploit the situation for their self-interest against Cameroun. This is certainly not a new claim because the Biya regime has accused the Trump administration several times for attempting to push respect for human and peoples’ rights and democracy in Cameroun for the self-interest of the USA government despite the tremendous support that the USA provides to Cameroun in the regional fight against Boko Haram. Monthe focused on playing Cameroon as a victim of a pro-independence movement in the west of the country, Boko Haram terrorist attacks in the north and a refugee crisis in the east from the conflict in Central African Republic. He insisted that the Cameroun government has developed its own humanitarian assistance plan that the international community should simply support, but failed to state how effective such a plan has been. Nevertheless, he would have been consoled by the readiness of the European Union to work with the Cameroun government to alleviate the humanitarian situation as João Vale de Almeida, Ambassador of the EU to the UN promised. It should be noted, however, that the EU Parliament recently passed a resolution indicting Cameroun for human rights abuses and persecution of political opponents of the Yaoundé regime, including a call for international sanctions on Cameroun in the footsteps of the USA that has withheld military assistance to Cameroun for human rights abuses in Ambazonia.He called for assistance to block the financing of pro-Ambazonian independence activism while also asserting that his government has the political will to engage in dialogue for a one and indivisible Cameroun in which Ambazonia remains part of the country.
The meeting ended with six key points worth noting. First, the humanitarian crisis in Ambazonia has reached a disastrous point and little international attention has been paid to it so far. Second, international solidarity and collaboration is necessary to address the humanitarian situation, and the United Nations and its partners need to take urgent action. Furthermore, there needs to be an inclusive mediated dialogue between the Cameroun government and the pro-independence Ambazonian party to resolve the conflict. In addition, cosmetic solutions to the conflict are no longer enough; the root causes of the conflict must be addressed to provide a permanent solution. Fifth, there needs to be accountability for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights on both sides. Lastly, it became evident from the meeting that international attention is shifting towards the Ambazonia independence cause, and it can no longer be neglected or seen as an internal affair of Cameroun contrary to the views of China and the Cameroun government.
Author: Monica C. Nkenganyi (Ambanews24, New York, USA)