Resurgence by the islamist militant Boko Haram attacks in the Far North of Cameroon this year have killed at least 275 people and left others mutilated or kidnapped according to Amnesty International today.
During a field research, the organization has documented crimes under international law and violations which took place during attacks between January and November 2019, including the looting and burning of homes and health centres, the shooting of an old blind man, and three women who had their ears cut off.
The people Amnesty International interviewed said they felt abandoned by the Cameroonian authorities.
“The people we met in Cameroon’s Far North are living in terror. Many of them have already witnessed Boko Haram attacks and lost family members or friends. They no longer ask whether there will be further attacks but when they will take place – they feel completely abandoned by the authorities,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Acting Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
Amnesty International recently conducted a two-week field research visit to Maroua and Mokola in Cameroon’s Far North, where researchers interviewed more than 30 victims of and witnesses to crimes and abuses committed by Boko Haram.
On 9 January 2019, President Paul Biya announced that Boko Haram had been “pushed outside” Cameroon’s borders and now presented “a residual threat”. Amnesty International’s research shows that, since then, there has been a resurgence of Boko Haram attacks in the Far North.
Between January and November 2019, 275 people were killed during Boko Haram attacks, – the equivalent of 25 a month, according to data gathered by Amnesty International. Of these, 225 were civilians.
People living in Tourou told Amnesty International they had experienced 16 attacks since the start of the year in which six people were killed and several more kidnapped.
Members of security committees are often targeted, as well as people who are elderly, vulnerable or living with disability.
Amnesty International also documented systematic lootings.
According to a list of stolen property seen by the organisation, clothing and shoes are often taken, as well as high value items like livestock and vehicles. Identity documents like birth certificates are often stolen or destroyed, making life even more difficult for the victims.
Three health centres in Tourou and Moskota have been looted, and in Gossi, the Baptist church and the pastor’s house were also set alight.
Amnesty International also documented attacks during which non-Muslims were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam.
In Tourou canton, an area of 16 mostly Christian villages in Mayo-Tsanaga, a 36-year-old woman and a 17-year-old girl were abducted on 3 July 2019 and forced to convert to Islam.
They told Amnesty International that they were kidnapped early in the morning in their fields by attackers who were hiding in the grass. The attackers tied their hands and necks, and then forced them to walk all day and part of the night without food or water.
They remember stopping in an area “at the foot of a mountain” where there were many Boko Haram members. Threatened with death, they were forced to convert to Islam. They were told that their villages could live in peace if all the inhabitants did the same and that they would be able to go home to collect their children.
The women learned to do their ablutions and to follow the principles of the Muslim religion as practised in that area. Their freedom of movement was considerably restricted during their period of detention. They were held in rooms and not allowed out except to go to the toilet. They had to do housework but were not authorised to cook as their abductors feared they might poison them. The two women managed to escape on 15 July 2019.
Faced with these recurring attacks, the inhabitants of those areas most affected feel they have been abandoned by the Cameroonian authorities.
“The problem is that Boko Haram are in the bush and the soldiers are in the town. It takes them too long to get here and, when they do, it’s too late,” said one witness. Many of the people Amnesty International spoke to felt the same.
The lack of media and political focus on the conflict in the Far North only reinforces this feeling of being left alone to face attacks. Boko Haram attacks in this region receive little official media coverage and only a few rare publications document these attacks. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)