Nairobi — The Cameroon government denied a Human Rights Watch researcher entry to the country on April 12, 2019. The government's action is an attempt to curb reports of abuse by security forces, but Human Rights Watch will continue to document and publicize human rights violations in Cameroon.
"Denying entry to our researcher is a clear step back for Cameroon," said Philippe Bolopion, deputy global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "The government is doing everything it can to keep the world in the dark about its ongoing abuses, but it won't succeed."
Officials at Douala international airport refused to allow Ilaria Allegrozzi, a Human Rights Watch senior researcher on Central Africa, to enter the country on April 12. Allegrozzi had received a three-month visa on March 25. Allegrozzi explained in her visa application that she planned to travel to the Anglophone regions of the country to conduct research for Human Rights Watch on abuses committed by both government and armed separatist forces, as well as the impact of the crisis on people with disabilities.
In Douala, Allegrozzi was given no explanation for denying her entry.
Despite several attempts to obtain explanations, Human Rights Watch has received no clarification from the government on the basis for its decision to block access.
Human Rights Watch started working on human rights in Cameroon in 1998. Since 2018, Human Rights Watch has issued a number of reports on human rights violations by government security forces as well as armed separatists, including a comprehensive report in July 2018 and several others in 2019.
Two days before Allegrozzi was denied entry, on April 10, Human Rights Watch published a short report on a deadly attack by soldiers, gendarmes, and members of the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) on the North-West region village of Meluf on April 4, killing five civilian men, including one with a mental disability, and wounding one woman.
Cameroon's Anglophone regions are in the grip of a crisis that began in late 2016 when Anglophone activists, who have long complained of their regions' perceived marginalization by the Francophone majority, mobilized significant segments of the Anglophone population to demand more political autonomy or secession. Government forces violently suppressed large demonstrations in mid-2017, killing more than 20 protesters.
Since then, the emergence of armed separatist groups has been accompanied by attacks on civilians by both government and separatist forces, and a growing militarization of the Anglophone regions. The unrest has displaced nearly half a million people.
The Anglophone crisis has unfolded as the country deals with the humanitarian consequences of attacks in the Far North region by the armed group Boko Haram. Both Boko Haram and security forces have committed serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.
This violence comes as the government has increased its crackdown on the political opposition. In January, police arrested Maurice Kamto, the leader of the opposition party, Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC), as well as about 200 of its members and supporters. This occurred against a backdrop of increasing intolerance against dissent and the right to assemble. MRC demonstrations were banned across the country in April.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights - which has a base in Yaoundé, the capital, but no mandate to monitor human rights violations - was not granted permission to investigate abuse in the Anglophone regions.
National and international human rights organizations have an important role to play in monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation, not only in Cameroon but in other countries around the world. By enabling human rights organizations to operate without hindrance, Cameroon would demonstrate its willingness to allow rigorous, independent scrutiny of its efforts to adhere to international human rights law. Cameroon's international partners should make the urgent human rights issues plaguing the country a priority and insist on unimpeded access to Cameroon for international human rights monitors.
"Cameroon's downward spiral on human rights is of special concern for a country that recently joined the UN Human Rights Council," Bolopion said. "The strategy of intimidation and roadblocks will not succeed. We urge the government to engage, allow Human Rights Watch to do its job, and strive to end abuse by both state and non-state actors."