Footage Reveals Cameroon Separatists' Deadly Attack

Human Rights Watch

Separatist fighters publicly executed two unarmed men in Guzang, Cameroon's North-West region, on October 4, 2023, Human Rights Watch said today. The execution, which was filmed, corroborates previous accounts of killings by armed separatist groups, some of them also captured on video.

"Separatist fighters show wanton lawlessness and cruelty against civilians in Cameroon's Anglophone regions," said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Separatist leaders should immediately rein in their fighters and order them to stop attacking civilians."

The video, that Human Rights Watch verified and geolocated to Guzang, shows at least two separatist fighters execute two unarmed men, whom the separatists accused of being spies for the Cameroonian army, in front of a crowd. One of the victims shakes his head and waves his hand in denial of the accusations. The video has been shared widely on social media. During the roughly one-minute video, the fighters also say they have a message for "René, to come and collect the bodies [of those killed]," but they did not specify who René is. René is believed to be a local Cameroonian military commander.

On October 6, the fon of Guzang, a traditional authority, issued a statement condemning the executions and said the two victims, Mbanyamsig Hans Di and Aburo N. Cletus, were "innocent civilians."

On October 8, Lucas Asu, spokesperson for the Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF), an armed separatist group, told Human Rights Watch that the ADF is responsible for the killings. He said that the two victims were "spies" from the Rapid Intervention Battalion (Bataillon d'intervention rapide, BIR), an elite unit of the Cameroonian army, "under Commander René," and that they were executed "in accordance with our code of justice and law." Asu also said that the group captured the two men "about a month ago," kept them in custody pending "an investigation," and then decided to execute them publicly because "they were traitors," and to "set an example for other people."

Asu's statement, however, is at odds with the accounts provided to Human Rights Watch by two Guzang residents, including one who witnessed the killing on October 4. "Four Ambazonia fighters [separatist fighters] stormed the Guzang's market square between 4 and 5 p.m. with motorbikes and picked up the two men," the witness said. "One [of the victims] was sitting at a bar, drinking, while the other was at home." The witness added that after the killings, the fighters warned the people of Guzang that "if they will attempt to retaliate, they will pay it with their lives."

On October 9, Asu reiterated to Human Rights Watch that the ADF captured the two men "a month ago." He added that the ADF currently "have three [other] detainees in custody in connection with spying and gathering intelligence for the BIR […]. One of them is a woman. Investigation into their activities is ongoing."

Violence has been rife in Cameroon's North-West and South-West regions since late 2016, as armed separatist groups seek independence for the country's minority Anglophone regions and attack both the military and the civilian population. Cameroon's government responded brutally to the insurgency and has multiplied military operations across the regions. At least 6,000 people have died and over 700,000 people have been displaced by the violence.

Human Rights Watch has extensively documented serious human rights abuses committed by both armed separatist fighters and Cameroon's security forces since late 2016. Armed separatists have kidnapped hundreds of people, including students, teachers, medical staff, humanitarian workers, clergy, and government officials. They have killed and tortured people, and carried out widespread attacks on education.

Government troops have also committed grave human rights violations, including extensive burning of villages, homes, and shops; killings; torture; mistreatment; incommunicado detention; and rape.

The crisis in Cameroon's North-West and South-West regions has received little regional and international attention. The United Nations Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council have never put it on their agenda. Cameroon's international partners, including France and the United States, have largely ignored the crisis unfolding in the Anglophone regions and failed to take a robust stance in the face of human rights abuses committed by all sides.

"As the crisis in the North-West enters its sixth year, separatist fighters continue to commit serious human rights abuses against an exhausted population without fearing any consequences," Mudge said. "Cameroon's international partners, the African Union Peace and Security Council, and the United Nations Security Council should impose targeted sanctions, including travel bans and assets freeze, on separatist leaders responsible for these abuses."

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