This case note is a part of our series of case notes that document the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. The case note contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
Background of the Conflict
The Anglophone Crisis or the Ambazonia War refers to the civil war in the Southern Cameroons. It is a part of the long-standing Anglophone problem in Cameroon (Journal du Cameroun 2018). In 2016-2017, Ambazonian separatists in the Anglophone parts of the Northwest and Southwest region (“Southern Cameroons”) launched a guerrilla campaign against the Cameroonian security forces after a series of protests were suppressed (Quartz Africa 2018). Following this campaign, they proclaimed the restoration of independence. However, in 2017, the Cameroonian government declared war on the separatists and sent its army to the Anglophone regions (Journal du Cameroun 2019).
It first began as a low-scale insurgency. However, by Summer 2019, the government controlled the major cities and countryside regions, and the Ambazonian separatists held parts of the countryside, and regularly sought to establish their presence in the major cities (Crisis Group 2019). There were attempts at dialogue (Journal du Cameroun 2019), and the Anglophone region was also given special status (Reuters 2019). However, the war intensified by the end of 2019 (VOA 2019).
By 2020, the frontlines had been clearly drawn. Cameroon raided the towns and villages under the separatists’ control (Fodors 2020), and tried to secure control over the major urban areas (Crisis Group 2019). The parliamentary elections escalated the conflict further, as the separatists sought to reassert themselves strongly (VOA 2020). The COVID-19 pandemic motivated one armed group to declare a ceasefire: but the war continued with the government ignoring calls to adhere to a ceasefire, too. Under international pressure for a ceasefire, dialogue began again in July 2020, where the government began to negotiate with the separatist leaders it had imprisoned. However, the war continued into 2021, and continues as at the time of writing. The war has resulted in massive casualties – with anywhere between 3,000 and 10,000 people having been killed (CHRDA 2019). By May 2019, 530,000 people had been internally displaced and 35,000 had fled to Nigeria (Crisis Group 2019), and by June 2019, according to the UNICEF, 1.3 million people in the Anglophone regions needed humanitarian aid (UNICEF 2019).
Prevalence of Sexual Violence
The UN had documented over 4,300 cases of sexual and gender-based violence in Cameroon between February and December 2020 (Mwakideu 2021). Of these, almost half the cases involved sexual or physical assault or rape, and in over 30 percent of those cases, the victims were children. Perpetrators of sexual violence include the armed separatists, military personnel, and civilians alike. In 2019, the UN had documented only 1,065 cases, 289 of which involved sexual assault or rape (Craig 2021). According to Human Rights Watch, at least 20 women in Ebam village in the Southwest region were raped by Cameroonian security forces in an attack on March 1, 2020 (Craig 2021).
Basis of Sexual Violence
Sexual violence has been used to intimidate and threaten women. There are instances where women have been falsely accused of a crime, and then forced to offer sexual favours so she can be released (Mwakideu 2021). The state of lawlessness and the breakdown of security sector machinery serves as an enabling environment for the targeting of women with sexual violence (Craig 2021). The rising poverty, homelessness, and widespread closures of businesses and schools have also contributed to the increase in sexual violence in the conflict-hit parts of Cameroon (Craig 2021). Sexual violence has also been used to control territories. Once the military settles in an area, they exert control over the area – including by carrying out sexual violence targeting women and girls in the territory under their control. In some instances, sexual violence has also been used to deliberately target women and girls for their purported or actual political affiliations.
Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) (2019, June 3) Cameroon-unfolding catastrophe’ evidence of human rights violations and crimes against humanity, https://www.raoulwallenbergcentre.org/newsfeed/2019/6/4/release-of-landmark-report-on-unfolding-catastrophe-in-cameroon
Craig, Jess (2021, April 29) Al Jazeera, "Sexual violence pervasive in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions" https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/29/gender-based-violence-pervasive-in-cameroons-anglophone-regions
Crisis Group (2019, May 2) Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis: How to Get to Talks? https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/central-africa/cameroon/272-crise-anglophone-au-cameroun-comment-arriver-aux-pourparlers
Fodors, (2020, September 23) I Traveled Deep Into Conflict to Bury My Grandfather. I Returned Slightly Charmed, https://www.fodors.com/world/africa-and-middle-east/experiences/news/i-traveled-deep-into-conflict-to-bury-my-grandfather-i-returned-slightly-charmed
Journal du Cameroun (2019, June 28) Cameroon: Ambazonia leaders endorse Swiss-led dialogue to solve Anglophone crisis, https://www.journalducameroun.com/en/cameroon-ambazonia-leaders-agree-to-participate-in-swiss-led-dialogue/
Journal du Cameroun (2018, May 28) ‘Ambazonia War’ drowns SDF 28th Anniversary Journal du Cameroun, https://www.journalducameroun.com/en/ambazonia-war-drowns-sdf-28th-anniversary/
Mwakideu, Chrispin (2021, May 19) Sexual violence rampant as Cameroon's Anglophone crisis intensifies https://www.dw.com/en/sexual-violence-rampant-as-cameroons-anglophone-crisis-intensifies/a-57581115
Quartz Africa (2018, January 14) Cameroon's Anglophone crisis is threatening to spin out of control, https://qz.com/1179202/cameroons-anglophone-crisis-is-threatening-to-spin-out-of-control/
Reuters (2019, December 20) Cameroon grants special status to Anglophone regions, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cameroon-separatists-lawmaking/cameroon-grants-special-status-to-anglophone-regions-idUSKBN1YO24S
UNICEF (2019, June 21) Geneva Palais briefing note on the situation for children in the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon, https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/geneva-palais-briefing-note-situation-children-north-west-and-south-west-regions
VOA News (2019, September 24) Cameroon's Separatists Intensify Attacks to Protest Dialogue, Voice of America, https://www.voanews.com/africa/cameroons-separatists-intensify-attacks-protest-dialogue
VOA News (2020, April 9) Cameroon's Separatists Relaunch Attacks to Reject State Reconstruction Plan, Voice of America, https://www.voanews.com/africa/cameroons-separatists-relaunch-attacks-reject-state-reconstruction-plan