Presidential Election in Cameroon Amid Escalation of Violence

By: Skylar Salim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

YAOUNDE, Cameroon — On October 7, 2018, a presidential election took place in Cameroon. This election occurred during a period of increasing violence in the Anglophone regions of the country. President Paul Biya is seeking his seventh term in office in this election. During his election bid Biya vowed to end the crisis and violence in the Northwest and Southeast regions of the country. The current president’s main opposition is Social Democratic Front party candidate Joshua Osih.

Government soldiers in Ekona, a small town in the English-speaking region that has been abandoned. Photo Courtesy of Ashley Gilbertson.

Two years ago, tension began to rise in Cameroon with protests and riots led by teachers and lawyers in the Anglophone regions. These protests surrounded the differences between the English and French systems in the country. In 2017, the protests turned into calls for secession. The separatist sentiments that were building led to a violent government crackdown. The government has been accused of using the military to kill armed separatists and English-speaking civilians. In their struggle to secede and form their own country, called Ambazonia, the armed separatists have been accused of killing both soldiers and civilians.

A report released by Amnesty International on September 18, 2018 notes that violence has been increasing in Anglophone regions as the election approaches. According to the report, tens of thousands of civilians have fled the region in the past year while at least 400 have been killed. In response to the crisis, the current government denounces the separatists as terrorists and says the government refuses to open any dialogue with them. As government forces are facing their own allegations of human rights abuses, communications minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary said that officials are investigating incidents as they hear about them.

While the presidential candidates spoke of bringing peace to the country, violence was prevalent during the voting period. Fighting and threats from separatists kept many from voting in the English-speaking regions of the country. In response to this, the governor of the Northwest region, Deben Tchoffo, said “We shall not allow terrorists to disrupt the election…We are informed that armed men are shooting indiscriminately to frighten voters.” Fighting between armed separatists and the military picked up on October 6th, and buildings that house voting materials were burned down. Two armed men were killed by the military in Bamenda in the Northwest region. While violence escalates between the military and separatists, at least 17 million people in Anglophone regions are put at risk as they are caught between the fighting.

Election observers such as the African Union are not working in the English-speaking regions due to the current level of violence of the crisis. While many are unable to reach polling location in these regions, it is expected for President Biya to win his re-election bid.

For further information, please see:

Washington Post — Cameroon Votes Amid Violence, Threats From Separatists — 7 October 2018

Al Jazeera — Death, Displacement, Trauma: Human Cost of the Anglophone Crisis — 6 October 2018

NYT — Cameroon on Brink of Civil War as English Speakers Recount ‘Unbearable’ Horrors — 6 October 2018

CNN — Amnesty International says 400 Killed in ‘Escalating Violence’ in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions This Years — 18 September 2018



Peace Agreement Signed in South Sudan

By Skylar Salim 
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

JUBA, South Sudan — On September 12, 2018, South Sudan’s President Slava Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed a peace agreement. The agreement ends the five-year civil war and reinstates Machar as Vice President.

President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar at the signing. Photo Courtesy of Michael Twelde.

In 2011, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan with Slava Kiir as President and Riek Machar as his Vice President. In 2013, tensions that had built up between the two turned into an armed conflict when Kiir accused Machar of planning a coup against him. According to the United Nations, five years of conflict with rebel factions ensued that led to at least 50,000 deaths. Many of those who died were civilians. It has also been estimated that at least 4 million South Sudanese, a quarter of the population, were displaced by the fighting. The civil war has substantially hurt the country’s economy and agricultural sector.

The deal, signed in Ethiopia and mediated by Sudan, calls for a cease-fire and allows Machar to return as Vice President. As Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed noted before the signing, “the eyes of the world are upon us as the South Sudan leaders commit today to press for reconciliation and lasting peace in their country.” Many countries in the region have an interest in ending the conflict between the government and rebel factions. The civil war threatens the stability of the region. This stability would worsen with the outpouring of refugees from South Sudan.

This is not the first peace agreement between the government and rebel factions. Previous peace deals lasted only months before fighting resumed. With these previous failures in mind, some are skeptical as to whether this deal will last. In light of such skepticism, Ateny Wek Ateny, a government spokesman, told The Associated Press that this was the “final final” deal and that both Kiir and Machar found it to be an acceptable agreement. In response to the question of whether peace would be permanent, Taban Deng, South Sudan’s current Vice President, referred to an African proverb. Addressing the UN, Deng said that this agreement was different because leaders look “where you have slipped, because it is there you will find what made you fall.”

Despite the peace deal and the assurances made by those who have signed it, there have been reports to the UN Security Council that some fighting continued in Central Equatoria and Unity.

For further information, please see:

Africa News — South Sudan Peace Deal is Permanent: VP Deng Tells UN — 29 September 2018

Al-Jazeera — South Sudan President Signs Peace Deal With Rebel Leader — 12 September 2018

Reuters — South Sudan’s President, Rebel Leader Sign Peace Deal — 12 September 2018

African Court Rules on Tanzanian Rights Violations

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

DODOMA, Tanzania – On Friday, September 18th the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights (AfCHPR) issued decisions of their 50th Ordinary Session. All applications were filed against the Attorney General of the United Republic of Tanzania.

African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights. Photo Courtesy of AfCHPR.

It was originally reported that judgements would be issued on three pending cases, however only two decisions were finalized and published by the court. The court published judgements on the matters of Anaclet Paulo and Diocles William.

Anaclet Paulo filed an application to AfCHPR alleging that the United Republic of Tanzania had violated the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights by denying his right to be heard, right to legal aid, and right to bail. Paulo was originally sentenced to 30 years in prison for armed robbery and violence in 1997.

AfCHPR unanimously held that the United Republic of Tanzania did not violate Paulo’s rights to freedom, right to be heard, and the Charter was not violated by the original conviction. The court ruled that Paulo’s right to defense was violated and ordered the Tanzania to pay Paulo 300,000 Tanzanian shillings (approximately $130 USD) as fair compensation for unfair access to legal representation.

In the second judgement, the court ruled on the matter of Diocles William. William was convicted in 2010 to 30 years in prison and 12 strokes of the cane for raping a minor. William alleged that the United Republic of Tanzania violated his right to be heard, right to legal aid, and right to equal representation.

AfCHPR ruled unanimously that the violation of equal rights wasn’t established by the William but Tanzania did violate the Charter by not providing legal aid, failing to hear defense witnesses, and convicting William with both insufficient evidence and contradicting witness statements. The court ordered the United Republic of Tanzania to reopen the case and guarantee a fair trial.

For further information, please see:

Habarileo – African Court to Adjudicate on Cases Against Republic – 20 September 2018

African Union – The Matter of Anaclet Paulo v. United Republic of Tanzania – 21 September 2018African

Union – The Matter of Diocles William v. United Republic of Tanzania – 21 September 2018

Concerns of Injustice in Boko Haram Trials

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ABUJA, Nigeria – In a statement published by Human Rights Watch on September 17, 2018 the Nigerian government was called upon to prosecute Boko Haram suspects by standards of international law and to prioritize the prosecution of those responsible for the organization’s atrocities.

Handcuffed Boko Haram suspects. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

In October 2017, Nigerian authorities began conducting mass trials for suspects of Boko Haram, the terrorist organization responsible for over 27,000 deaths in northeastern Nigeria since 2009. There have been reports that these trials have focused on prosecuting suspects who provided support to Boko Haram and have denied suspects a fair trial and due process. Additionally, many of those tried have been detained since the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009.

Concerns of fair trial and due process stem from the short length of the proceedings, ambiguous charges, and lack of official translators and appropriate legal defense. Since October 2017, nearly 1,700 suspects have been prosecuted in makeshift courts outside of Abuja where the detention centers were located.

The Human Rights Watch report highlights the importance of prosecuting Boko Haram suspects under international law standards and particularly cites the risk of increasing recruitment by the terrorist organization if due process procedures are not followed. Other groups monitoring the trials, including the National Human Rights Commission, share similar concerns to Human Rights Watch in the errors in trial procedure and treatment of Boko Haram suspects.

Human Rights Watch draws attention to lack of implementation of the recent policy adopted by the Nigerian government in 2017 which aims to prevent and counter Boko Haram extremism. Though this report notes that there is increased international support for Nigeria’s counterterrorism policies, they emphasize the importance of conducting these trials in a manner that limits extremism and prioritizes correct trial procedure and due process.  

For further information, please see:

Times Live – Due process concerns over Boko Haram trials in Nigeria – 17 September 2018
Financial Express – Due process concerns over Boko Haram trials, says rights group – 17 September 2018
Human Rights Watch – Nigeria: Flawed Trials of Boko Haram Suspects – 17 September 2018

Rwandan Opposition Leader Released From Prison

By: Skylar Salim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KIGALI, Rwanda – Rwandan President Paul Kagame pardoned political opposition leader Victoire Ingabire from a 15-year prison sentence.

Victoire Ingabire as she is released from prison. Photo Courtesy of Jean Bizimana.

On September 15, 2018, Victoire Ingabire, leader of the FDU-Inkingi opposition party, and 2,140 other prisoners were pardoned by President Kagame and released from prison. Ingabire intended to run for president when she returned to Rwanda from exile in 2010. Upon her arrival she was arrested, charged with treason and terrorism and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Her sentence was extended by five years on appeal for “genocide denial” in relation to remarks she made concerning the government’s portrayal of the 1994 genocide.

Ingabire brought a claim against the Rwandan government in the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In November 2017, the court found that the Republic of Rwanda violated Ingabire’s right to freedom of speech. Although calls for a retrial were initially ignored by the government, the president pardoned Ingabire. Ingabire thanked Kagame for releasing her and she said, “this is the beginning of the opening of political space in Rwanda.” She also called on the president to “release other political prisoners.”

The government has noted that the pardons are not a result from outside pressure, and that “there is nothing political about [Ingabire’s] release, there is nothing political about her imprisonment.” Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Businge told Reuters “the president has granted mercy, and under the constitution, he is allowed to do that.”

While Ingabire and other political prisoners were released, one notable opposition leader remains imprisoned and will go to trial on September 24. Diane Rwigara, in a situation similar to Ingabire, ran for president in 2017 but could not complete her run due to issues raised by the electoral committee. Rwigara and her mother were later arrested on charges relating to the claims of electoral fraud and treason.

Typically in elections, Kagame wins with over 90% of the vote and the ruling party, Rwandan Patriotic Front, faces little opposition. Kagame commanded the rebel force that helped end the 1994 genocide and he has been president for 18 years. A new amendment to the Rwandan constitution that ends two-term limits could allow Kagame to remain in power until 2034.

For further information, please see:

CNN – Rwandan Imprisoned Opposition Leader to go on Trial as Another Walks Free – for now – 22 September 2018

Al Jazeera – Rwandan Opposition Leader Among 2,100 Released from Prison – 15 September 2018

The Citizen – Rwandan Opposition Leader Freed From Jail – 15 September 2018