Cameroonian soldiers raped at least 20 women, during a village raid in 2020, alleged Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday, saying it was one of the worst attacks by the army since the Anglophone separatists insurgency began in 2016.
The attack on March 1, 2020, was a reprisal against civilians in the western village of Ebam suspected of collaborating with rebels seeking independence from the mostly Francophone state, witnesses told the New York-based rights group.
The rights group said soldiers also burned one home, looted scores of properties, and severely beat the men they took to a military base.
The conflict between state forces and rebels demanding independence has killed more than 3,500 people and forced 700,000 from their homes, researchers say.
Cameroon’s North-West and South-West regions have been rife with violence since late 2016, as armed separatists seek independence for the country’s minority Anglophone regions.
Rights groups accuse both sides of committing atrocities. While the government typically dismisses these accusations, it has, in a few cases, subsequently arrested soldiers and accused them of being involved in killings and torture.
News of the attack in Ebam has been slow to emerge due in part to stigma and fear of reprisals, HRW said in a report, adding that the incident suggests sexual violence is much more pervasive in the conflict than has been documented.
The group said it conducted interviews with 20 rape survivors as well as multiple other witnesses, a doctor who screened the survivors, aid workers and UN officials with knowledge of the incident.
The witnesses said more than 50 soldiers entered Ebam at around 3 a.m. and broke into nearly all 75 houses in the village, stealing money, assaulting women and rounding up the men.
“The military asked me and other villagers: ‘Where are you keeping the amba (separatists)?'” one of the victims told HRW. “They said: ‘The next time we come here, we’ll shoot everyone if you don’t show us the amba now.'”
One man was also killed after being transferred to a nearby military base, the report said.
Cameroon’s army spokesman dismissed HRW’s findings.
“We have better things to do than react to this report. Human Rights Watch is clearly complicit in the terrorists’ atrocities,” said Colonel Cyrille Atonfack, referring to the rebels. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)