Non-international Armed Conflicts in Cameroon
Cameroon is engaging in parallel non-international armed conflicts (NIAC) against Boko Haram in the Far North and against a number of Anglophone separatist groups, which are fighting against the government for the independence of the region in the Northwest and Southwest regions.
- Cameroon is engaged in a NIAC against Boko Haram in the Far North region. Vigilante groups are also fighting against the non-state actor. However, they are not party to the conflict because they do not meet the organization requirement.
- Cameroon’s armed forces, including an elite combat unit Rapid Intervention Battalion (RIB), have been involved in NIACs against a number of separatist groups operating in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, in particular the the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC) and its military wing (the Ambazonia Defense Forces, ADF) and the Interim Government of Ambazonia (IG) and its military wing (the Ambazonia Self-Defence Council, ASC), among others.
Two criteria need to be assessed in order to establish whether the violence in Burkina Faso meets the threshold for non-international armed conflict:
- First, the level of armed violence must reach a certain degree of intensity that goes beyond internal disturbances and tensions.
- Second, in every non-international armed conflict, at least one side in the conflict must be a non-state armed group which must exhibit a certain level of organization in order to qualify as a party to the non-international armed conflict. Government forces are presumed to satisfy the criteria of organization. For further information, see ‘Non-international armed conflict’ in our Classification section.
Intensity of violence
Various indicative factors are used to assess whether a given situation has met the required intensity threshold, such as the number, duration and intensity of individual confrontations; the types of weapons and military equipment used; the number of persons and types of forces participating in the fighting; the number of casualties; the extent of material destruction; the number of civilians fleeing and the involvement of the United Nations Security Council. For further information, see ‘non-international armed conflict – Intensity of violence’ in our Classification section.
Boko Haram has been present in Cameroon since 2009. Following armed confrontations between fighters and Nigerian security forces in Maiduguri, which resulted in the death of more than 800 members of Boko Haram, including the founder Mohamed Yusuf, a number of fighters crossed the border and sought refuge in Cameroon’s Far North region. Over the following years, Boko Haram’s presence in Cameroon evolved dramatically. While at first the armed group was rather passive, between 2011 and 2013 it started recruiting Cameroonians as fighters and used the Far North region as safe haven. H. De Marie Heungoup, ‘Q&A: Boko Haram in Cameroon’, International Crisis Group, 6 April 2016.
The first armed confrontation registered between the armed group and state armed forces took place in March 2014. Between 2014 and 2016, it started carrying out attacks against the armed forces and the civilian population, focusing in particular on abductions and kidnapping of foreigners and suicide bombing. In those years, the group ‘carried out more than 400 attacks and incursions in Cameroon, as well as about fifty suicide bombings that left 92 members of security forces dead, injured more than 120 others and killed more than 1350 civilians.’ H. De Marie Heungoup, ‘Q&A: Boko Haram in Cameroon’, International Crisis Group, 6 April 2016.
In 2016 and 2017 the intensity of violence has diminished, but it has not ceased. This is exemplified by the number of military and civilian casualties, which has decreased of ‘about 20 per cent compared to 2016 and 40 per cent compared to 2014-2015. ‘Cameroon’s Far North: A New Chapter in the Fight Against Boko Haram’, International Crisis Group, Africa Report no. 263, 14 August 2018, p. 3. It is worth recalling that this does not imply that international humanitarian law (IHL) ceases to be applicable. Indeed, IHL continues to be applicable regardless of oscillating intensity of violence, thus even when the intensity requirement is not met for a certain time. As specified by the ICRC ‘a lasting cessation of armed confrontations without real risk of resumption will undoubtedly constitute the end of a non-international armed conflict as it would equate to a peaceful settlement of the conflict, even without the conclusion or unilateral pronouncement of a formal act such as a ceasefire, armistice or peace agreement.’ ICRC, Commentary to Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions (2016), §488.
Nevertheless, in 2018 fighting increased again. A number of confrontations support this conclusion. In February 2018, Boko Haram fighters killed 25 people, both civilians and member of the armed forces. Furthermore, Cameroon soldiers killed a BH suicide bomber. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, February 2018. On 3 April, BH members carried out a large attack on a military base in Sagme, which resulted in the death of 6 soldiers and 15 fighters. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, April 2018. As the October 2018 presidential elections approached, Boko Haram increased its armed activities. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, August 2018; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, September 2018.
Since then, armed confrontations have been sustained. Boko Haram has continued its attacks throughout 2019, often targeting civilians. By the end of 2019, they reportedly carried out attacks on a daily basis. Remadji Hoinathy, Fonteh Akum and Evelyne Taryam, ‘Vigilance committees’ dilemma in the fight against Boko Haram’, Institute for Security Studies, 21 October 2019; Moki Edwin Kindzeka, ‘Cameroon records daily Boko Haram attacks along Nigeria border’, VOA News, 12 December 2019. In 2020, Boko Haram maintained a high rate of attacks on civilians and military in the Far North. A telling example is the attack on an IDP camp hosting 800 people near Nguetchewe in the night of 1-2 August. During this attack, 18 people were killed and 11 injured while sleeping. As a result of the attack, 1,500 people were forced to flee the area. ‘UNHCR outraged by attack on camp hosting displaced people in Cameroon, at least 18 people killed’, UNHCR, 4 August 2020; Lisa Schlein, ‘Victims of suspected Boko Haram attack on Cameroon IDP camp need urgent help’, VOA News, 5 August 2020.
Boko Haram is reported to have carried out almost daily attacks between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, mainly targeting villages in the Mayo-Tsanaga division. For instance, on 8 January 2021 at least 14 people were killed, including 12 civilians and 2 Boko Haram fighters, following an attack on Mozogo. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, September 2020 – January 2021; Peter Kum and Rodrigue Forku, ‘Boko Haram attack kills 14 in northern Cameroon’, AA, 8 January 2021; Moki Edwin Kindzeka, ‘Cameroon says Boko Haram, separatists on offensive’, VOA News, 9 January 2021; Kenneth Roth, ‘World Report 2022: Cameroon’, HRW, 13 January 2022. In March 2021, after a lull in attacks in February, Boko Haram stepped up military operations in response of joint operations by the Multinational Joint Task Force. Rodrigue Forku and Peter Kum, ‘Cameroon: 4 civilians dead in Boko Haram attacks’, AA, 4 January 2021; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, March 2021. Sustained violence continued through 2021, resulting in 30,000 - 36,000 deaths and 2 million displaced people by the end of July since the conflict began in 2009. For example, an attack on Sagme on 24 July 2021 killed 8 government soldiers and wounded 13 of them. ‘Boko Haram attack kills several soldiers in Cameroon, regional governor says’, France 24, 24 July 2021; Moki Edwin Kindzeka, ‘Cameroon: Civilians flee after deadly Boko Haram attack’, VOA News, 25 July 2021; Moki Edwin Kindzeka, ‘Cameroon says Boko Haram attacks military, seduces civilians’, VOA News, 30 July 2021.
The violence continued into 2022, with a major offensive by the Multinational Joint Task Force against Boko Haram in March. For instance, between April 27 and 29, about 20 fighters were killed in the context of this offensive. Since the beginning of the fighting in 2009, about 3 million people were forced to flee their homes because of Boco Haram’s presence in the region. ‘Joint West African force claims 20 rebels killed in Lake Chad’, Al Jazeera, 1 May 2022; Fatma Bendhaou, ‘Cameroun: trois militaires et quatre civls tués dans une nouvelle attaque de Boko Haram’, AA, 31 May 2022; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, January 2022 – May 2022.
The intensity of violence decreased during the second half of 2022. Notably, while Boko Haram and ISWAP fighters continued attacking civilians, clashes between the armed groups and governmental forces was sporadic. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Cameroon.
It is worth recalling that this does not imply that international humanitarian law (IHL) ceases to be applicable. Indeed, IHL continues to be applicable regardless of oscillating intensity of violence, thus even when the intensity requirement is not met for a certain time. As specified by the ICRC ‘a lasting cessation of armed confrontations without real risk of resumption will undoubtedly constitute the end of a non-international armed conflict as it would equate to a peaceful settlement of the conflict, even without the conclusion or unilateral pronouncement of a formal act such as a ceasefire, armistice or peace agreement.’ ICRC Commentary to Article 3 GC (2016), §488.
Anglophone separatist groups
In October 2016, peaceful protests started in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon against perceived structural discrimination and requests for more autonomy in the region. The government responded deploying its armed forces, which employed live ammunition from low-flying helicopters into crowds and arrested dozens of activists under terrorism charges. Accordingly, strikes and violent riots ensued: protestors resorted to armed resistance, with the first wave of attacks on State targets by armed militias reported in September 2017. G. Browne, ‘Cameroon’s Separatist Movement Is Going International’, Foreign Policy Dispatch, 13 May 2019; ‘UN Human Rights Chief deeply alarmed by reports of serious rights breaches in Cameroon’, OHCHR News, 25 July 2018; International Crisis Group, ‘Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis: How to Get to Talks?’, Africa Report No. 272, 2 May 2019, p. 10.
There are several armed groups fighting against the State forces, though the level of coordination of these armed groups remains unclear. The ongoing hostilities show a collective character and have forced the government to deploy its armed forces, including its elite combat unit RIB. Regarding a standard to be used in the determination of the level of intensity of violence in decentralized armed hostilities, see L. Moir, ‘The Concept of Non-International Armed Conflict’, in Clapham, A., Gaeta P., Sassoli, M (eds), The Geneva Conventions of 1949: A Commentary, Oxford University Press, 2015, p. 406. Among others, it is worth recalling the Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF), the Ambazonia Restoration Army, the Ambazonian Tigers, Southern Cameroons Defence Forces (Socadef), the Banso Resistance Army, and Donga Mantung Liberation Force. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, February 2018; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, March 2018.
The declaration by the separatist forces of ‘independent state named ‘Ambazonia’’ on 1 October 2017 was the turning point that precipitated large-scale fighting. A. Arieff, ‘Cameroon's Anglophone Crisis: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress’, CRS Insight, 6 April 2018; R. Maclean, ‘Violence in Cameroon’s anglophone regions ‘spiralling out of control’’, The Guardian, 18 September 2018; S. Fröhlich and D. Köpp, ‘Who are Cameroon's self-named Ambazonia secessionists?’, DW, 30 September 2019. Since then, the situation worsened considerably as the Anglophone separatists started attacking government security forces, government institutions and threatened, kidnapped, and killed civilians perceived to side with the government. Human Rights Watch, ‘Cameroon Events of 2018’.
Between November and December 2017, seventeen members of the security forces were killed during armed confrontations with separatist groups. Furthermore, the commander of armed forces in the South West region reported that several soldiers joined the opposition. Since then, the administrative regions of Southwest and Northwest Cameroon, referred to as ‘Anglophone Cameroon’, have been under curfew for the most part of the last two years. F. Grandi, ‘Why Cameroon’s conflict matters for regional security’, International Institute for Strategic Studies, 6 November 2018. As the situation deteriorated, in December 10.000 Cameroonian refugees arrived in Benue state (Nigeria) while 28.000 were already in Cross River state. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, December 2017.
Since May 2018, hostilities intensified between security forces and Anglophone separatist militants, as the latter started extending their military operations to new areas, such as Buea and Limbe. As the opposition groups became more aggressive, state troops reacted with attacks on fighters and civilians. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, May 2018; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, July 2018; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, August 2018. The situation further deteriorated in mid-2018, ahead of presidential elections that took place on 7 October 2018. With 71.3% of votes, Cameroon's President Paul Biya won a seventh term in office. Due to threats of violence by separatist groups, many individuals living in the Anglophone regions were unable to vote. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, September 2018; ‘Cameroon's President Paul Biya wins seventh term’, BBC, 22 October 2018. In 2018, the ADF and other militia clashed with government forces 83 times that year, compared to 13 times in the previous year. F. Chothia, ‘Cameroon's Anglophone crisis: Red Dragons and Tigers - the rebels fighting for independence’, BBC, 4 October 2018. The spokesman for Cameroon’s military, Col. Didier Badjeck, confirmed that around 170 Cameroonian troops had been killed as at November 2018. S. O’Grady, ‘Divided by language: Cameroon's crackdown on its English-speaking minority is fueling support for a secessionist movement’, The Washington Post, 5 February 2019.
In 2019, the instances of armed hostilities increased. For instance, only in February clashed between the government and armed forced caused the death of at least 100 separatists, military, and civilians. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, February 2019. In mid-March, at least 30 armed confrontations resulted in the death of 26 civilians and 7 members of the security forces. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, March 2019. In August 2019, as ten separatist leaders were sentenced to life in prison, clashes increased, causing at least 40 casualties between 24 and 25 August in Ndop, Bafu, Kumbo, Bamenda in Northwest, and Mamfe and Kumba in Southwest. Moreover, separatist groups called for 3 weeks lockdown in Anglophone regions. Accordingly, from 26 August businesses remained close and civilians stayed home, while many fled the area during the previous days. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, August 2019.
Between 30 September and 4 October 2019, the government organized a national dialogue in the capital Yaoundé in order to discuss in particular the Anglophone crisis. Nevertheless, separatist groups refused to participate and therefore violence did not decrease. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, August 2019. In the following months fighting has not decreased, not even during the new coronavirus crisis. Indeed, while the Southern Cameroons Defence Forces (Socadef) group has declared a ceasefire in March due to the pandemic, ADF has not shown similar intentions. ‘Cameroon rebels declare coronavirus ceasefire’, BBC, 26 March 2020. On July 2020, the government began peace talks with the Ambazonia interim government (IG), an umbrella organization composed by the main separatist groups. Sisiku AyukTabe, the president of the IG, who is currently serving a life sentence in prison for charges including "terrorism", announced that nine separatist leaders participated in the meeting. ‘Cameroon holds first peace talks with main separatist group’, Al Jazeera, 4 July 2020.
While violence intensified between January and March 2021, causing high civilian toll. For instance, in January separatist groups conducted a number of armed attacks which caused the death of eight security forces and three civilians; consequently, state forces launched raids on Bachua village in West region, which led to the capture of several civilians which were suspected of supporting separatist groups. In February, several armed confrontations took place between separatist forces and the state army and continued in March. However, violence decreased in April 2021. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Cameroon.
Sustained violence continued throughout 2021, to the extent that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian discussed the situation in Cameroon on the margins of the G7 ministerial meeting on 4 May 2021. ‘Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with French Foreign Minister Le Drian’, US Department of State, 4 May 2021; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, May 2021. Separatist groups, when attacking military targets, often make use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). For instance, on 12 and 16 September, they hit a military convoy with IEDs and anti-tank rocket launchers, killing 22 soldiers and several civilians. The use of these more advanced weapons such as anti-tank rocket launchers in addition to IEDs indicates that the separatists have more and more means of fighting the government and probably enjoy external support. ‘Cameroon separatists kill 15 soldiers in attacks using explosives’, Reuters, 21 September 2021; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, September 2021. On 12 November 2021, violence was rekindled after an incident in which a police officer shot an 8-year-old girl. This happened after a 5-year-old child had already been shot in Buae on 14 October 2021. These events have fuelled the already tense situation and led to the outbreak of protests in the Anglophone region of Cameroon. These protests soon became violent with security forces opening fire on the protestors. Moreover, separatist forces retaliated for the girl’s killing by attacking policemen and soldiers. This resulted in the killing of five policemen in Santa and four soldiers in Mbengwi. ‘Cameroon: Protest, associated violence reported in Bamenda, Southwest Region, Nov. 12’, Crisis 24, 12 November 2021; Josiane Kouagheu, ‘Policeman arrested for killing 8-year-old girl in Cameroon’, Reuters, 13 November 2021; Moki Edwin Kindzeka, ‘Cameroon city shuts down after child’s killing’, VOA News, 13 November 2021; ‘The killing of a child further escalates tensions in Anglophone region’, World Organisation Against Torture, 15 November 2021; ‘Cameroon: Lethal force against protesters’, HRW, 19 November 2021; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, November 2021; R. Maxwell Bone, ‘Cameroon’s forgotten civil war is getting worse’, Foreign Policy, 2 December 2021.
In early 2022, violence continued, albeit at a lower level. In February 2022, however, violence ran high, mainly because of Youth Day, a national holiday on 11 February to commemorate the referendum that took place on that day in 1961 which saw the southern part of British Cameroons decide in favour of joining newly independent Cameroon. For example, separatist groups forced their way into a girls' high school and set fire to the dormitory to prevent their preparations for Youth Day. Moki Edwin Kindzeka, ‘Cameroon separatists torch girls-only school dorm for preparing for National Youth Day activities’, VOA News, 12 February 2022; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, February 2022. A similar pattern occurred in the run-up to Cameroon's National Day on 20 May. The separatists stepped up their activities to disrupt the National Day celebrations. This led to violent confrontations between government forces and the separatists, with at least 28 separatists killed by the army. Moki Edwin Kindzeka, ‘Violence, lockdown, running battles paralyze Cameroon National Day in Western Regions’, VOA News, 20 May 2022; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, May 2022.
In September 2022, the government abruptly terminated a Swiss-supported peace process with separatist groups. On 10-14 October 2022, anglophone separatist groups and the government held peace talks brokered by Canada. In the meantime, the civil society organised demonstrations in the capital, calling for peace in the Anglophone regions. Internaitonal Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Cameroon.
In light of the foregoing, the intensity of violence meets the threshold required by IHL.
In a worrying development, vigilante groups have emerged to fight against Boko Haram. Just like BH insurgency is affecting Nigeria and the border areas of Chad, Niger and Cameroon, so is the phenomenon of selfe-defence groups fighting against Boko Haram. International Crisis Group, Watchmen of Lake Chad: Vigilante Groups Fighting Boko Haram, Africa Report no. 244, 23 February 2017, p. 1. Vigilante groups have been present in Cameroon from the 1950s to the early 1970s, in the governmental fight against the left-wing Union des Populations du Cameroun. Between the 1990s and 2000s, Cameroon collaborated with the so-called comités de vigilance (vigilante committees) to counter the criminal activities of bandits in the northern regions. As reported by International Crisis Group, Cameroon ‘is confident enough to mobilise the comités de vigilance on a large scale and feels it can control them through its territorial administration and local chiefs.’ It is thus unsurprisingly that they are now involved in the fight against Boko Haram. International Crisis Group, Watchmen of Lake Chad: Vigilante Groups Fighting Boko Haram, Africa Report no. 244, 23 February 2017, p. 3. While they regularly engage in armed confrontations against the armed group, they are not sufficiently organized to be party to a NIAC against the armed group. See, e.g., International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, October 2017; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, March 2018; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, January 2019.
A series of indicative factors are used to assess whether armed groups exhibit the required degree of organization, such as the existence of a command structure and disciplinary rules and mechanisms, the ability to procure, transport, and distribute arms, the ability to plan, coordinate and carry out military operations, the ability to negotiate and conclude agreements, e.g. cease fire or peace agreements. If the criterion of a minimum organization of the armed group is not fulfilled, there is no armed conflict. For further information, see ‘non-international armed conflict - organization’ in our classification section.
Boko Haram (Hausa for ‘Western education/civilisation is forbidden’), also known as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad), is a non-state armed group which operates in Nigeria in particular and in the Lake Chad Basin region in general, notably in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. See International Institute for Strategic Studies, ‘Boko Haram/Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP)’, Armed Conflict Database; International Criminal Court, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2013, November 2013. In 2015, it pledged allegiance to the “Islamic State” group. ‘Who Are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist Group?’, BBC, 24 November 2016. Furthermore, it has strong links with other Islamist groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Islamist groups fighting in Mali and al-Shabab. International Crisis Group, Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency, Africa Report no 216, 3 April 2014, p i.
The leader of Boko Haram, the Amir, is the head of the Shura, namely the council of elders. The council has seven members, and each one of them leads a ministry across the administration of the group. Commanders have executive powers and sub-commanders direct and lead foot-soldier operations, called maaskars. See Amnesty International, ‘Our Job Is to Shoot, Slaughter and Kill’. Boko Haram’s Reign of Terror in North-East Nigeria, 14 April 2015. After the death of its founding leader, Mohammed Yusuf, in July 2009, Boko Haram started splintering into different factions. In 2014, International Crisis Group reported that there were six different factions of the group. International Crisis Group, Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency, Africa Report no 216, 3 April 2014, p 22; S. Arraf, ‘Nigeria: A Focus on the Boko Haram Insurgency’, A. Bellal (ed), The War Report: Armed Conflicts in 2017, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, 2018, p 107.
Following the crucial loss of territories, there was a leadership split within Boko Haram. In March 2015, the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, pledged allegiance to the “Islamic State” and renamed the group Islamic State (IS) in West Africa Province (ISWAP). In 2016, when the “Islamic State” group claimed Abu Musab al-Barnawi was the leader, Abubakar Shekau refused to acknowledge the change and claimed that this was an attempted coup against him. One year later, a number of senior leaders left the group, retaining the name ISWAP and obtaining recognition from the “Islamic State”. While the group led by Abubakar Shekau retained the name Boko Haram, it is also known under the name Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (JAS). It has been reported that the two factions engaged in military confrontations between each other in the following months. See A. Withnall, ‘Boko Haram descends into in-fighting as reports emerge of deadly clashes between rival Islamist factions’, Independent, 8 September 2016; ‘Boko Haram in Nigeria: Split Emerges Over Leadership’, BBC, 4 August 2016; International Crisis Group, ‘Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province’, Report no. 273, 16 May 2019. Nevertheless, these episodes of violence remained sporadic and there is no record of further fighting within the armed group. As of 2018, the two main factions are led by Shekau, on the one hand, and by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, on the other. See ‘Boko Haram’, Counter Extremism Project. While there is no sufficiently clear and reliable information on Boko Haram fractions to conclude that it can still be considered as one armed group, arguably the conflict remains a single non-international armed conflict in light of the absence of fighting between Boko Haram’s factions and the nexus between the hostilities each of them wages against the government.
Over the years, Boko Haram established control of a significant amount of territory in northeastern Nigeria. This area was declared to be a caliphate, and was used to launch military operations against targets in Nigeria as well as in neighbouring countries. ‘Who Are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist Group?’, BBC, 24 November 2016. Although the group has suffered crucial losses in terms of territorial control, it still retains control over a small portion of Nigerian territory, notably the Sambisa Forest, the Mandara Mountains and the islands of Lake Chad. Human Rights Watch, ‘Nigeria: Events of 2017’, World Report 2018; See also S. Arraf, ‘Nigeria: A Focus on the Boko Haram Insurgency’, in A. Bellal (ed), The War Report: Armed Conflicts in 2017, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, 2018, p 107.
It should be noted that Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau was killed, probably during fighting with Islamic State in West Africa Province in May. This could have a major effect on Boko Haram's operation, especially in maintaining their position in relation to other Islamist groups. However, as discussed under the criterion of intensity, Boko Haram under command of their new leader Bakura Modu has so far continued to carry out hostile acts in the Far North region. John Campbell, ‘Nigerian terrorist Abubakar Shekau: Dead or alive – and does it matter?’, Council of Foreign Relations, 24 May 2021; ‘Abubakar Shekau: Nigeria’s Boko Haram leader is dead, say rival militants’, BBC News, 7 June 2021; Jacob Kurtzer, Kelly Moss and Judd Devermont, ‘Boko Haram’s leader is dead: What are the humanitarian and security implications?’, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 15 June 2021; ‘Boko Haram’s new chief confirms ‘unkillable’ Shekau’s death’, Daily Sabah, 18 June 2021; Jeff Seldin, ‘Nigeria says ‘safe to assume’ Boko Haram leader is dead’, VOA News, 24 August 2021.
Anglophone separatist groups
In the most rural areas of the Northwest and Southwest Cameroon, there are now more than seven armed militias, including ADF, Southern Cameroons Defence Forces, the Red Dragons, and Tigers, which have an estimated total of between 2,000 and 4,000 fighters. International Crisis Group, ‘Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis: How to Get to Talks?’, Africa Report No. 272, 2 May 2019, p. 2; F. Chothia, ‘Cameroon's Anglophone crisis: Red Dragons and Tigers - the rebels fighting for independence’, BBC, 4 October 2018. It is unclear how most of these groups are structured and to what degree they coordinate with one another, as some of them do not share the same political demands, although, there are some reports indicating that some groups have a structure at the local level, with village-level commanders appearing to report to regional commanders. Human Rights Watch, ‘“These Killings Can Be Stopped”: Government and Separatist Groups Abuses in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions’, July 2018, p. 21. Since 2018 the armed groups steadily took control of few remote rural and urban areas and started maintaining roadblocks and security checkpoints. They have even managed to organize attacks on towns such as Buea (Southwest) and Bamenda (Northwest), which suffered about twenty attacks in 2018. International Crisis Group, ‘Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis: How to Get to Talks?’, Africa Report No. 272, 2 May 2019, pp. 2-3. Nevertheless, apart from a few exceptions mentioned below, most rebel groups are fragmented and loosely organized. International Crisis Group, ‘Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis: How to Get to Talks?’, Africa Report No. 272, 2 May 2019, p. 6.
Despite some clear divisions, the groups are increasingly trying to coordinate themselves. For instance, they held several meetings in, among others, Ireland and Germany in February and March 2022, where they tried to align their objectives and work out a common fighting strategy. For the time being, this does not lead to the conclusion that they fulfil the organisation criterion. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, February 2022 – March 2022.
Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF) and Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC)
The ADF, which emerged in late 2017 as the armed wing of ‘Ambazonia Governing Council’, is the largest of several insurgency groups fighting for an independent ‘Ambazonia’. It is estimated to have a fighting force of 1.500 – 3.000. ACLED, ‘Picking a Fight: The Rise of Armed Separatists in Cameroon’; Human Rights Watch, ‘“These Killings Can Be Stopped”: Government and Separatist Groups Abuses in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions’, July 2018, p. 20. The ADF acts as an umbrella organization of several armed groups, with their distinct uniforms, and has amassed hundreds of fighters, having its distinct logo. However, the composition of the group is constantly changing, as most groups are ready to be associated with any group fighting for the ‘Ambazonian cause’. G. Browne, ‘Cameroon’s Separatist Movement Is Going International’, FP Dispatch, 13 May 2019. The members of these armed groups are often referred to as ‘Amba boys.’ M. Delancey, R. Mbuh, M. W. Delancey, Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cameroon (African Historical Dictionaries), 5th ed, 2019, p. 48.
Lucas Cho Ayaba is the leader of the ADF’s parent organization, the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC), as well as the commander in chief of ADF. It has been reported that he is based abroad and leads the armed group from there. Benedict Kuah is the head of Ambazonia Defense Council (ADC), which serves as defense ministry for the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC). Unlike Ayaba, Kuah is directly involved in the daily armed activities of ADF. ‘Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF): Leadership, Organizational Structure’, Stanford Centre for International Security and Cooperation.
Ambazonia Self-Defence Council (ASC) and Interim Government of Ambazonia (IG)
The Interim Government of Ambazonia (IG) was formed from the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front (SCACUF), an umbrella organization based in Cameroon. It was the leader of SCACUF, Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, who declared the independence of Ambazonia on 1 October 2017 and then later founded the Internim Government on 31 October. A. Essa, ‘Cameroon's English-speakers call for independence’, Al Jazeera, 1 October 2017; D. Forniès, ‘Southern Cameroons crisis has marginalized Anglophones seeking independent republic’, Nationalia, 28 December 2017. In January 2018, the majority of the leaders of the IG, Tabe included, were arrested in Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon. Accordingly, Samuel Ikome Saku was nominated interim president of the organization. Nevertheless, the decision was criticized by some members of the group as it allegedly lacked transparency. Consequently, on 2 May 2019 Tabe dissolved the IG, but Saku reacted and claimed that Tabe was impeached. R. M. Bone, ‘Ahead of peace talks, a who’s who of Cameroon’s separatist movements’, The New Humanitarian, 8 July 2020; ‘Cameroon: Detained Ambazonia leader dissolves ‘Interim Government’’, Journal du Cameroon, 2 May 2019; ‘Cameroon: Confusion as detained Ambazonia leader impeached by peers’, Journal du Cameroon, 12 June 2019.
In 2019, the groups under the IG led by Sako created a new umbrella organization: the Ambazonia Coalition Team (ACT). Amond the most prominent groups members of this organization, it is worth recalling the the Southern Cameroons Defense Forces (SOCADEF). On the other hand, IG Tabe has formed an alliance with the AGC, whose military wing is the ADF. In June 2020, IG Tabe has started peace talks with the government. However, a number of groups claim that he does not have the authority to negotiate. R. M. Bone, ‘Ahead of peace talks, a who’s who of Cameroon’s separatist movements’, The New Humanitarian, 8 July 2020.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), in what is dubbed as the historic deliberation, held a two hours Arria-Formula meeting on 13 May 2019 on the security and humanitarian catastrophe situation in Northwest and Southwest Cameroon. During this meeting, the Under-Secretary-General (USG) for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock stressed that serious consideration should be given to the humanitarian crisis in the area, and that efforts should be made to address the root causes of the ongoing conflict. Mark Lowcock also called on the UNSC members ‘to influence all parties to respect humanitarian law and grant access to those in need’ and emphasized the need for ensuring accountability for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights on both sides. M. C. Nkenganyi, ‘UN Security Council Concludes Root Causes of Humanitarian Crisis in Ambazonia must be Addressed’, AmbaNews24, New York, 15 May 2019.
The EU Parliament considered the situation in Cameron and passed a resolution calling for an end to the cycle of violence, and in particular for the Government to organize an inclusive political dialogue aimed at finding a peaceful and lasting solution to the crisis in the Anglophone regions. European Parliament Resolution of 18 April 2019 on Cameroon (2019/2691(RSP). The EU council for its part, pointed out that serious violations of human rights continue to be reported and predatory crime has become widespread in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon. It continued to state that it ‘remains concerned and strongly condemns the continued violence and the level of insecurity’ in the regions. ‘Cameroon: Council adopts conclusions’, Council of European Union, Press Release, 14 October 2019. It further ‘reaffirm[ed] the need for all parties in Cameroon to respect the rule of law and resolve this crisis peacefully through an inclusive dialogue’, and vowed to continue its support for all efforts to settle the situation in coordination with its international and regional partners. ‘Cameroon: Council adopts conclusions’, Council of European Union, Press Release, 14 October 2019. In the same vein, as early as 2017, the African Union expressed its ‘deep concern’ regarding the ‘continuous deterioration of the human rights situation’ in Cameroon Anglophone regions. ‘AU expresses concern on the situation in Cameroon’, AU Press Release, 18 January 2017.
Some governments have also begun to take concrete measures regarding the conflict in Cameroon. For instance, the US has decided to scale down its military assistance to Cameroon. ‘The U.S. halts some Cameroon military assistance over human rights: official’, Reuters, 6 February 2019. And later in July, the US House of Representatives adopted Resolution 358 calling on both the government of Cameroon and armed groups – among other things – to respect human rights and work towards resolving the conflict. H. Res. 358 (July 23, 2019): Calling on the Government of Cameroon and armed groups to respect the human rights of all Cameroonian citizens, to end all violence, and to pursue a broad-based dialogue without preconditions to resolve the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest regions.
All parties to the conflict are bound by Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which provides for the minimum standards to be respected and requires humane treatment without adverse distinction of all persons not or no longer taking active parts in hostilities. It prohibits murder, mutilation, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, hostage taking and unfair trials.
All parties are also bound by customary international humanitarian law applicable to non-international armed conflict. Customary international law consists of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database of customary international humanitarian law.
In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of armed conflict. Under human rights law, the territorial state has an obligation to prevent and investigate alleged violations, including by non-state actors. Non-state armed groups are increasingly considered to be bound by international human rights law if they exercise de facto control over some areas.
- Boko Haram
- Anglophone separatist groups