Biya Gets an Early Christmas Gift from HRW

Biya Gets an Early Christmas Gift from HRW
By Ntumfoyn Boh Herbert (Yindo Toh)*

December 11, 2019

The New York-based rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), is unrepentant.

In a report published Tuesday, HRW distorts facts, misrepresents events and downplays the horrors of the war, atrocity crimes and genocidal violence unfolding in the former United Nations British Trusteeship Territory of Southern Cameroons aka Ambazonia.

Unashamedly, the report takes sides in favor of the dictatorship of Paul Biya, President of neighboring La Republique du Cameroun (independent on 1st January 1960).

For HRW, “the crisis… began in late 2016”. False! First, it is not a “crisis” and, if it is, it definitely did not start in late 2016.

Something else it is not?

It is not “the Anglophone crisis”. By describing it as such, HRW joins La Republique du Cameroun (LRC) in selling two falsehoods. The first is that this is a battle over which of two colonial languages should prevail. Secondly, HRW effectively gangs up with LRC in denying Southern Cameroonians the right to change their nationality, an inalienable right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Anglophone crisis” is also code for there being only “one, and indivisible Cameroon”, one part of which happens to use English as the dominant official language. It is also code that it is a domestic, Camerouno-Cameroonian affair, in which the international community basically has no right to intervene. HRW goes further, by denying the existence of any real problems. For HRW, the so-called “Anglophones” have protested “perceived (not real) marginalization by the central government”.

HRW is too blind and too poorly briefed on the root causes to recognize that the identity and territorial crisis opposing Southern Cameroons to LRC started on 1st October 1961. What happened in late 2016 is that the Biya regime resorted to blind repression, systematic and sustained use of violence, war crimes and genocidal violence.

On 30th November 2017, Mr. Biya, took the violence up several notches. Speaking on national television, he declared war against those he called “criminal gangs”, “secessionists” and “terrorists”. Members of his regime described the millions who identified with Ambazonia as “dogs”, “roaches”, “enemies within”, “worst than Boko Haram terrorists”, etc.

Remarkably, HRW has nothing to say about this background. Instead, it blames the emergence of “separatist groups (…) calling for independence” and – wait for it! – “using force to press their cause”.

No propaganda spin doctor working as a spokesperson for LRC could have said it better. Well, maybe, there are. But, none could say it and fool so many around the world about the veracity of the claim.

Despite admitting to facing difficulties to obtain information, HRW is quick to jump to conclusions. It blames “separatist groups” – not just “armed groups” or “unidentified armed groups” – for the kidnapping of 10 aid workers in October. It is not an allegation, for HRW, which offers no reason why the kidnappers could not be Biya forces and/or pro-regime militia, known for abducting and kidnapping civilians as well.

What HRW describes as a “crisis” was already “armed conflict” before war was declared. Yet, HRW sticks with the word “crisis” in order to downplay what is unfolding. Anyone around the world who reads this latest report by HRW as the first document ever on the war, would go away believing that the death toll is in the hundreds of people killed. The report cherry picks to reveal the death toll for a two-month period: “at least 130 civilians killed”.

By refusing to acknowledge the enormous loss of thousands of families, this HRW report rubs salt into the injury of grieving families. By failing to acknowledge the dead, HRW murders the victims all over again.

The Biya regime could not have wished for a better early Christmas gift than to see a major rights group like HRW narrow the scope of its reporting on the litany of horrendous rights violations. Yes, it is important to stand up for everyone’s human rights, especially the rights of the 24 persons living with disability at the heart of this report. The Biya regime would gladly foot the bill for rights groups shining the light on any speck they see in the Ambazonian eye while failing to acknowledge the plank in the Biya regime’s eye.

This is consistent with HRW sticking with the use of the word “crisis”, not “armed conflict” and definitely not “war”. HRW offers the Biya regime the kind of early Christmas gift that Hitler would have appreciated if, in the day, HRW elected to describe the Holocaust as a massacre. It is the kind of early Christmas gifts the Interhamwe who perpetrated the 1994 Rwanda Genocide would have appreciated if HRW blamed them for human rights violations instead of for genocide.

It takes an extraordinary dose of bad faith, revisionism and intellectual dishonesty for HRW to put down in black and white that the people of Southern Cameroons “took to the streets to demand more recognition of their political, social and cultural rights”. Unless HRW is also auditioning for the job of PR and lobbying firm for the Biya regime, why can it not state a very simple fact? Southern Cameroonians “took to the streets” to demand the restoration of the independence the United Nations General Assembly confirmed in a resolution adopted on 21st April 1961.

*Ntumfoyn Boh Herbert (Yindo Toh) is spokesperson of the Movement for the Restoration of the Independence of Southern Cameroons (MoRISC)