REPUBLIC OF CAMEROON: Hundreds slaughtered by Boko Haram and abused by security forces

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25 Sep 2015
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Regional conflict

Boko Haram has slaughtered nearly 400 civilians in northern Cameroon, while a heavy-handed response by security forces and inhumane prison conditions have led to dozens more deaths, Amnesty International said in a report launched today.

Based on three research missions in 2015, the report, (Human rights under fire: attacks and violations in Cameroon's struggle with Boko Haram, documents how Boko Haram, which now calls itself the “Islamic State's West Africa Province”, has killed at least 380 civilians since January 2014.

In response Cameroonian security forces have raided villages, destroying homes, killing civilians and detaining over 1,000 suspects. Serious incidents have not been effectively investigated.

“By killing indiscriminately, destroying civilian property, abducting people and using children as suicide bombers, they have committed war crimes and caused untold fear and suffering to the civilian population,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty International director for West and Central Africa.

“At the same time, while providing much needed protection to civilians, the response by Cameroonian security forces has also been marred with serious violations. Cameroon’s security forces have killed civilians unlawfully or through excessive use of force. People have been arbitrary arrested, and many held in inhumane conditions which have led to dozens of deaths.”

War crimes by Boko Haram

Since mid-2014, Boko Haram fighters have attacked scores of towns and villages in the far north region of Cameroon, killing and kidnapping civilians, burning down hundreds of houses and looting livestock and other property.

In a raid on 15 October 2014, Boko Haram fighters shot or slit the throats of at least 30 people in the border town of Amchide. One eyewitness told Amnesty International: "I saw Boko Haram fighters brutally cutting the throats of at least two of my neighbours.”

Since July 2015 a series of suicide bombings using girls as young as 13 have claimed more than 70 lives. Thirty-three civilians were killed and more than 100 wounded in three suicide bombings in Maroua on 22 and 23 July 2015.

Boko Haram now calls itself the “Islamic State's West Africa Province”

Heavy-handed response by the security forces

Since 2014, Cameroonian security forces have arrested and detained more than 1,000 people suspected of supporting Boko Haram. Most were arrested in mass “screening” operations or “cordon-and-search” raids where security forces round up dozens, sometimes hundreds, of men and boys. The majority of them are held in appalling conditions at Maroua prison. Overcrowding, lack of sanitation and inadequate health care led to the death of at least 40 prisoners between March and May 2015 alone.

In carrying out security operations, the military have used excessive or lethal force. In one cordon-and-search operation at least eight people were killed and more than 70 buildings were burnt down in the villages of Magdeme and Doublé on 27 December 2014.

In addition to the deaths and destruction, at least 200 men and boys were arrested during this operation. They were taken to the Gendarmerie Headquarters in Maroua and locked in two storerooms, where many died overnight. Nearly three months after the incident the authorities said that 25 people lost their lives in the makeshift cells, yet have failed to reveal the identities of the victims, the cause of their death, or the location of their bodies. While 45 of those arrested were taken to prison the following day, at least 130 of the men and boys arrested in the two villages remain unaccounted for.

“The scale and depravity of Boko Haram’s attacks is appalling and more must be done to protect civilians and bring all those guilty of these crimes to justice. But it is shocking that an army which is supposed to protect civilians from Boko Haram has committed atrocities themselves. Crimes committed on all sides must be immediately and impartially investigated.”

16 September 2015

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