Election in Cameroon: several organisations call for restraint and dialogue

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Paris, Douala, Buea, 6 October 2018 – Abuses and deteriorating security in the North-West and South-West of the country, dialogue at a standstill with separatist movements, low level of guarantee to safeguard the transparency of the election, and more and more hate speech. The presidential election scheduled for this Sunday in Cameroon is ridden with risk, and the separatist movement announced that it intended to prevent the elections from taking place. Considering this situation, FIDH, MDHC, REDHAC and CHRDA are appealing to all parties to exercise restraint and to respect the rules of democracy. Our organisations are also appealing to the African Union and the United Nations to, at last, acknowledge the level of tension and anxiety prevailing throughout the country and to be especially attentive to the conduct of the forthcoming vote.

Paul Nsapu, FIDH Deputy Secretary General noted that, “although Cameroon has been getting bogged down in violence for months, the international community continues to cast a distant eye on the country. We urge the different parties to avoid all excess and provocation this week end that could reel the country into escalating violence”.

There is much concern about the transparency, the security and the credibility of the vote with criticism of the independence and impartiality of the entities responsible for the promulgation and validation of the results. The opposition is especially criticising the fact that most of the members of the electoral commission, Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), who were appointed by President Paul Biya, are former members of the ruling party, the Cameroonian People’s Democratic Movement (Rassemblement démocratique du peuple camerounais – RDPC).

Paul Biya has been in power for 36 years and is running again. Most of the members he appointed to the Constitutional Council are from his own party, the RDPC. The Constitutional Council is the body in charge of resolving all electoral disputes. Lastly, it is also the president who decided on the date for the presidential election, without consulting opposition parties, and despite the concerns expressed about safety in the North-West and South-West Cameroon Anglophone regions.

Another cause for concern is the mounting inflammatory rhetoric by the supporters of some of the candidates, and especially the very heated exchanges on the social networks where ethnic origin has become a recurrent theme and is being manipulated.

Maxime Bissay, President of the Maison des droits de l’Homme du Cameroun (MDHC), noted that, “the political and security situation do not seem conducive to the holding of peaceful elections. We have seldom heard such verbal violence between political party supporters. We urge all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from stoking hatred”.

In the North-West and South-West Anglophone regions, the crisis that started in October 2016, triggered by social demands by teachers, lawyers and students, has turned into serious acts of armed violence, over two years of State repression and especially hurting the civilian population. The Cameroonian authorities generally decided to use repression and military power to control the crisis. The defence troops and the security forces used live ammunition to prevent peaceful demonstrations. This armed response contributed to radicalising the position on each side and led to the 1 October 2017 declaration of secession by the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC). Since that time, at least a dozen armed groups and self-defence militia groups have been created.

“The military reaction of the Cameroonian authorities has contributed to transforming a crisis that originally was based on social demands into an armed confrontation that mainly harms the civilian populations in the Anglophone regions. In this period of presidential election, we fear that the situation may get worse and we continue to repeat that the use of arms, wherever they come from, is not a solution,” said Mireille Tushiminina, Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA), based in Buea, the capital of the South-West region.

At least 420 civilians have died1, more that 25,000 people have been forced to flee to neighbouring Nigeria2 and more than 250,0003 have relocated elsewhere within the country, in search of safety. According to CHRDA, some 161 villages have been attacked and torched, mainly by the defence and security forces that accused the people of belonging to or supporting the separatist movements. Close to 1000 people have been arbitrarily arrested and detained4. During this same period more that 175 members of the defence and security forces have been killed5, and at least 34 schools set on fire, and close to a dozen representatives of the administrative and traditional authorities have been abducted by the separatist groups.

As the election date approaches, the separatist leaders have said that they would not allow the elections to be held in the Anglophone regions. They urged the people to boycott the elections, and threatened those who decide to go to the polling stations with reprisals, destroyed voter registration cards, committed acts of violence against the ELECAM members, torched some of their offices and blocked traffic on many of the roads. Since August 2018 hundreds of people have taken the precaution of leaving the Anglophone regions.

Mrs Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, Executive Director of the Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (Réseau des défenseurs des droits humains en Afrique centrale – REDHAC) said, “This election has been organised under very precarious conditions. The President, who will be the winner, should give priority to creating a peaceful political and security situation. This should include the organisation of as broad a political dialogue as possible on the Anglophone crisis and on the form of the Cameroonian State. Lastly, responsibility for the crimes committed during these last months must be identified so that the spiral of hate, violence and vengeance can be brought to a stop”.

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