- Human Rights Watch says armed separatist groups in English-speaking areas of Cameroon have been attacking schools, pupils and teachers.
- A senior researcher says about 700 000 students had been denied access to education.
- Separatist groups claim they aren’t behind the attacks, but researchers say there is strong evidence to the contrary.
News24 | Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Cameroon’s government to shift its focus from military-backed attacks to justice in its efforts to quell violence in the country’s Anglophone regions.
Research by HRW has found that children’s right to education in the English-speaking parts of Cameroon have been negatively impacted by armed separatist groups launching attacks on students, teachers, and schools.
The 131-page long report, titled “They Are Destroying Our Future: Armed Separatist Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Schools in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions”, says the English-speaking north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon had seen armed terror groups intimidating families into keeping their children out of school between March 2017 and November this year.
The report says this is done through killing, beating, abducting, threatening, and terrorising students, and education professionals, and parents. Schools are also looted, vandalised and burnt down.
The crisis in the English-speaking regions started in November 2016, when security forces beat up peaceful demonstrators led by teachers and lawyers protesting the perceived marginalisation of the country’s minority Anglophone education and legal systems, and their assimilation into the Francophone systems.
Armed separatist groups, seeking independence for the two English-speaking regions, have since emerged and grown, and education soon became a primary battleground.
“These attacks, the resulting fear, and the deteriorating security situation have caused school closures, with two out of three schools shut across the Anglophone regions, denying over 700,000 students access to education,” HRW said in a statement.
News24 spoke to Ilaria Allegrozzi, a senior Central Africa researcher at HRW, about the situation on the ground.
“Education has been used as a weapon by separatist groups trying to achieve political gains. Insecurity in both regions is another main concern, due to ongoing violence, counter-insurgency operations and attacks by separatist groups,” she said.
In coming up with the report, Allegrozzi said there were challenges linked to the safety of respondents and general access to information that was being blocked by separatist groups and state actors.
There are restrictions on access to the Anglophone regions and of information flow since the security and political crisis broke out in the Anglophone regions in late 2016. Authorities and separatist groups have systematically tried to control the information flow; authorities have also hindered access to the North-West and South-West regions to independent national and international monitors, including the Human Rights Watch senior researcher, and journalists.
To ensure their safety, HRW researchers conducted regular risk assessments, put in place mechanisms to protect those who decided to speak, including carrying out interviews in multiple safe locations, ensuring the accuracy of information by conducting remote research, which “we did by using multiple sources, different forms of material evidence, relying on a solid network of people on the ground”.
According to Allegrozzi, separatist groups deny being behind the attack on schools, although there’s overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
“Separatist groups have denied, in different ways, having carried out attacks against education, but our evidence shows the contrary, that they are responsible and should be held accountable. Authorities in Cameroon need to do more to address the current climate of impunity and focus on justice versus the military approach. They should arrest and prosecute those responsible instead of eliminating them in counter-insurgency operations,” she said.
An entire generation of Cameroonians were being robbed of their fundamental right to education, the advocacy group said.