Jackie Fearnley writes about the desperate plight of the Southern Cameroons and says Britain has a responsibility to put pressure on Paul Biya’s government
I’d like to draw attention to the plight of political prisoners in Cameroon (Cameroon split as anglophones call for creation of ‘Ambazonia’, 3 January). I am in touch with some of those enduring horrible conditions in the notorious, severely overcrowded prison of Kondengui, many of whom have been there for over a year. Every few weeks they are brought before a military tribunal (which can impose the death penalty) but each time they appear, no witnesses are present and no case is brought. Some of them will appear again on 19 January and they are appealing for journalists and human rights organisations to be present to witness this cruel charade. They would like pressure to be brought on the government of Paul Biya to end this inhumane treatment of protesters. While there are so many in prison, and others unaccounted for, there can’t even be any thoughts of dialogue, nor can the thousands of people forced to flee to Nigeria come back while they have no assurance of safety.
Since decolonisation there have been two plebiscites: the first when the ex-British Southern Cameroons were offered only the choice of joining La République du Cameroun in a federation or of becoming part of Nigeria, then a second vote 10 years later when they were asked if they would like to become part of a unitary state (thus losing the federated status and their star on the flag), and were apparently offered the choice of oui or yes (ie no choice).
France, Britain and the UN must bear some responsibility for this unfortunate marriage which has failed so disastrously. Promises of fair and equal treatment have not been kept and Cameroon is a state that is bilingual only in name. Any activity seen as threatening the power of Paul Biya is punished with detention (usually without trial) and brutal treatment, as witnessed by the numbers of Southern Cameroonians who come to claim asylum here and are accepted as clients by Freedom from Torture.
It is high time that the Southern Cameroonians, who have been recognised as a people by the UN, were rescued from injustice, social and economic marginalisation, persecution and the misappropriation of their resources and at long last given a voice. Instead of standing helplessly by and watching the escalation of a genocide, perhaps a helpful step would be if Great Britain could initiate a resolution for a referendum to be conducted through the good offices of the UN with questions to ascertain how many anglophones from NW and SW Cameroon would like to remain in this union, how many would like a true federation (of respected equals) and how many would like complete independence. Another relevant action might be to make it known that Cameroon risks being expelled from the Commonwealth for failing to respect the rule of law, observation of which is a basic requirement for membership.