By Bola Olajuwon, Assistant Editor
•Secretaries of State, Defence queried over wrong use of American security aids, others
THREE United States (U.S.) members of Congress – Ilhan Omar, Karen Bass and Sara Jacobs – have raised an alarm over alleged ongoing campaign of state-sponsored violence and rights violation by Cameroonian security forces in the country’s Anglophone region.
In an oversight letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, the three lawmakers were particularly concerned about whether U.S. security assistance to Cameroonian security agencies might have been used to commit “serious human rights abuses” in the East African country.
In the letter made available to The Nation by diplomatic sources, the lawmakers expressed concerns over U.S. support for the Cameroon’s Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) – some elements of which have been accused by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, as having been directly implicated in atrocities in the Anglophone region.
The American lawmakers’ alarm is coming few hours after Community Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also expressed concern over reported genocide in Southern Cameroon by President Paul Biya’s security forces.
Reacting to a document titled, “Genocide Alert in Ambazonia, Southern Cameroon”, from a group, “United Support for Peace”, Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament, Sidie Mohamed Tunis, said the letter made him deeply concerned about conflicts and the human rights situation in Cameroon’s minority Anglophone region.
But, the American lawmakers’ oversight letter reads: “As you are aware, the State Department has reprogrammed some security assistance since 2019, but our understanding is that other assistance – including to the BIR – continues.
“We also have serious questions about the efficacy of existing laws in preventing U.S. security assistance from reaching human rights violators. In 2020, the State Department Inspector General found that nearly 80% of Leahy vetting requests submitted by Embassy Yaoundé between late 2018 and late 2019 ‘were submitted to Washington too late to allow for sufficient processing time’ and that ‘as a result, Washington had an average of four days to process the requests, instead of the 10 working days stipulated in the Department’s 2017 Leahy Vetting Guide’.”
The lawmakers stated that they shared the President Joe Biden’s administration’s desire to put human rights at the centre of the country’s foreign policy.
The lawmakers noted that they also recognised the need for a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to combating transnational terrorist threats that includes a security component.
“Our concern in Cameroon and elsewhere is with the potential diversion of U.S. security assistance and, more broadly, that support for security forces that commit human rights violations — apart from being incompatible with American values and illegal under U.S. law — is counterproductive to the very aims of counterterrorism,” the oversight letter stated.
The lawmakers quoted a United Nations Development Programme, which found in a 2017 report that 71% people who joined extremist groups in Africa, including Boko Haram, were triggered to join by state violence and human rights violations.
“It follows that support for human rights violating security forces in the name of fighting terrorism, then, runs the real risk of creating more terrorists than it neutralises.
“We request detailed answers to the following questions:
*What are the amounts of State Department- and Department of Defence-administered security assistance provided to Cameroon in FY21 and FY22 to date, broken down by account and Cameroonian recipient unit?
*With what level of certainty can the State Department and Department of Defence affirm that U.S. assistance has not been provided to Cameroonian security force personnel subsequently implicated in human rights abuses?
*To what extent did the delays in Leahy vetting requests enumerated in the 2020 OIG report impede rigorous investigations into evidence of past commission of gross human rights violations by recipient security force units?
*Has the reported redeployment of some security force personnel from the Far North to the western Anglophone regions raised challenges for Leahy vetting and U.S. security assistance focused on the Far North and, if so, what is the administration’s strategy to overcome those challenges?
*Is the State Department currently able to conduct Leahy vetting in a timely manner in Cameroon?
*Does the U.S.-Cameroon 505 agreement or any related MOUs concluded with the Government of Cameroon explicitly prohibit the use of U.S.-provided equipment outside of Boko Haram- and Islamic State-West Africa Province-affected areas?
*How does security assistance fit into a larger strategy for our bilateral relationship with Cameroon? What is the State Department doing to address root causes of violence, including addressing the risk factors for extremist recruitment enumerated in the 2017 UNDP report?”
The Southern Cameroon crisis, also known as the Ambazonia War or the Cameroonian Civil War, is an ongoing civil war, part of the long-standing Anglophone problem.
Following the suppression of 2016–17 Cameroonian protests, Ambazonian separatists in the Anglophone territories of Northwest Region and Southwest Region launched a guerilla campaign against Cameroonian security forces, and later proclaimed the restoration of independence.
In November 2017, the government of Cameroon declared war on the separatists and sent its army into the Anglophone regions.