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Cameroon: English-speaking Minority - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:23 pm on 14th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 8:23 pm, 14th November 2018

My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, on giving us the opportunity to raise these issues concerning Cameroon, which are so important in our overall philosophy for the development of Africa.

After independence in 1961, there followed a long period of economic migration back and forth between Cameroon and Nigeria, together with asylum seekers fleeing from Boko Haram, perhaps inevitably, given the war between Cameroon’s army and the Islamist militant group. Since 2015, however, Cameroon has apparently forcibly removed tens of thousands of asylum seekers back to north-east Nigeria, despite warnings that the region remains unsafe due to Boko Haram attacks.

In March 2017, concerns about forced returns led Nigeria, Cameroon and the UNHCR to sign an agreement for the voluntary repatriation of Nigerian refugees living in Cameroon. The agreement states that,

“repatriation of Nigerian refugees will be done solely on the basis of their freely expressed will”,

and only when,

“the conditions are favorable for the return of refugees in safety and dignity to the place of their final destination in Nigeria”.

Yet in September 2017, Human Rights Watch reported that over 100,000 Nigerian refugees were deported from Cameroon in the hope of stemming the spread of Boko Haram, defying a plea from the UN Refugee Agency not to return anyone to north-east Nigeria, where Boko Haram had killed thousands of people. According to Human Rights Watch, the Cameroonian military’s torture and abuse of Nigerian refugees seems to be driven by an arbitrary decision to punish them for Boko Haram attacks in Cameroon and to discourage Nigerians from seeking asylum.

It is still not safe to drive from Cameroon into places like the border towns of Pulka and Banki, say leaders of the Borno Community Coalition, which assists IDPs. The attacks on returnees should prove to Cameroon that forcing refugees back to Nigeria could lead them to their death. Last week, the fury created by reports that as many as 100 students had been kidnapped from a Presbyterian secondary school subsided to a large degree when the true figure of 11 was confirmed on their release. Separatists fighting for independence of the two English-speaking regions condemned the kidnapping in Bamenda and accused the Government of staging the incident. On 5 November, the Journal du Cameroun reported that the Committee to Protect Journalists, the CPJ, was exhorting the Government to stop intimidating journalists in the country. Angela Quintal, the CPJ’s Africa program co-ordinator, said:

“Over the last year, Cameroonian journalists have been repeatedly summoned simply for doing their work. In many instances, these summons resulted in detentions. This pattern of intimidation must end”.

Before the London CHOGM, the CPA UK branch hosted the visit of a parliamentary delegation from Cameroon. The delegation was led by the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Cameroon, the honourable Emilia Monjowa Lifaka. The tension between anglophone and francophone areas of Cameroon was discussed, in particular the disparity between the French and English legislative and legal systems operating in different parts of the country. The delegation stated that, as a minority of the population came from the English-speaking community, there was less demand for, and therefore less incentive to provide, trained officials who specialise in the English legal and legislative systems, leading to a shortage of these personnel.

The honourable Emilia Monjowa Lifaka later attended the opening plenary session of the London CHOGM, as the newly elected chair of the international Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Referring to the CHOGM themes of fairness, prosperity, security and sustainable development, she said:

“There can be no peace without fairness, there can be no meaningful development without peace, there can be no security without peace, and therefore, no nation can prosper without fairness, peace and security”.

As the chair of the all-party group on the Commonwealth, I wonder what advice the Minister might give the chair of the international CPA on how her wise words might well be applied to her own Parliament, as well as to the Commonwealth at large. With the anglophone conflict edging towards civil war, will the Minister urge dialogue between the separatists and the Government of Cameroon as a means of halting escalation? Will she call for support for an anglophone general conference, able to negotiate with the Government of Cameroon, breaking their reliance on a military campaign to crush the rebels? Will she also confirm that she will urge the Government of Cameroon to reflect that, as signatories to the Commonwealth charter, they too are committed to helping to establish and apply human rights throughout the Commonwealth in accordance with the Latimer principles?