Antonio Guterres -UN Secretary General
Part I: Background to the Crisis
1. Permit me to congratulate you on behalf of the people of the former British Southern Cameroons for your recent election to the post of Secretary General of the United Nations. I have the honor, as the external representative of the Consortium of civil society of the English speaking Cameroons, to write to you in order to brief you on the disturbing situation which is developing in the former British Southern Cameroons which are currently designated today as the “Northwest and Southwest Regions” of the Republic of Cameroon. It is because of the wider potential regional ramifications of what is happening that we believe that the United Nations should be informed on a timely basis so that it can take urgent action.
NFOR N SUSUNG
Grievances of Common law lawyers
2. The UN are certainly aware of the fact that disturbances were triggered by a strike by English speaking lawyers in Cameroon who have constituted themselves under a common group known as “Common Law Lawyers”. They have held long standing grievances against the government of President Paul Biya for appointing Francophone magistrates and lawyers who are practitioners of civil law, to preside over the entire judiciary in English speaking regions which have always operated on the basis of Common law, inherited from the United Kingdom dating back to the UN Trusteeship Agreement of 1946. The Common law lawyers have also objected to the imposition by the government in Yaoundé requiring that Common Law lawyers should submit their legal briefs to Francophone magistrates in French. This is the recipe for judicial chaos which sent the Common Law lawyers into the streets.
Grievances of Teachers Association
3. The Common Law lawyers were joined in a sympathy strike by the teachers association in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon due to grievances arising from the fact that the government of President Paul Biya has been posting Francophone teachers with very low English language proficiency to Anglophone schools to teach English speaking Cameroonians. The impact of this has been to lower the quality of education in the former British Southern Cameroons. The teachers association went on an indefinite strike because they could no longer accept the idea that the educational system of the Anglophone regions should become controlled by members of President Paul Biya’s government who do not use English as a working language because the same chaos that has been engendered in the judicial system of the for British Southern Cameroons has expanded to the education sector as well.
The Frenchification of Anglophones:
4. The steamrolling “Frenchification” of the former British Southern Cameroons with a total population of around 7 million which constitutes approximately 25-30 percent of Cameroon has been the long standing goal of President Paul Biya who himself speaks no English even though he has been the President of a country which is supposed to be bilingual for nearly 35 years.
5. Your Excellency, French is a beautiful language and French culture is extremely rich. Only those who have mastered the French language can fully appreciate the depth of French culture. The youth of the former British Southern Cameroons aspire to learn French as a second foreign language in order to have access to education in France as many of them have had in other EU countries like Germany. But the government of President Paul Biya has never made any effort to promote such exchanges between France and the former British Southern Cameroons.
6. But the people of the former British Southern Cameroons, otherwise known as Anglophones, believe that English is the passport into the modern world. That is why they no longer accept President Paul Biya’s idea of national unity based on “harmonization” which implies the eradication of all traces of English and Anglo-Saxon culture in order to ensure that Cameroon eventually becomes a 100 percent francophone country with French as the official language. By depriving them of an educational system based on the highest standards of English language usage the government of President Paul Biya is subjecting the children of the former British Southern Cameroons to collective marginalization.
The Teachers strike
7. This is the background to the teacher’s strike which was triggered by the decision of President Paul Biya to post Francophone teachers with poor mastery of the English language to teach in English speaking schools and colleges in the former British Southern Cameroons. The unwillingness of the government of President Paul Biya to respond constructively to the grievances of the Anglophone lawyers and teachers is responsible for the progressive descent to violence and deaths on the streets of towns such as Bamenda and Kumba in the former British Southern Cameroons. I attach photos of the killings that took place in the town of Bamenda on 8 December 2016 when President Biya’s troops opened fire on unarmed youth who had to defend themselves with an improvised giant catapult.
Consortium leaders demand a return to a two-state federation
8. The government initially showed a willingness to negotiate with leaders of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium made up of Barrister Felix Agbor Balla Nkongho, Dr. Fontem Neba and Mr. Wilfred Tassang and who held negotiating sessions with members of the government in order to find common ground that will lead to a resumption of schools throughout the former British Southern Cameroons. Members of the consortium insisted on return to a federal system of government which will enable the former British Southern Cameroons to reacquire its autonomy so as to be able to run its educational system and its judiciary as they existed prior to the reunification with French Cameroun in October 1961. However the government of Mr. Biya has completely rejected any idea about a federal system of government because it prefers to continue to govern under a totally centralized form of government which has led to the total marginalization of the Anglophone regions in all spheres of political life in Cameroon.
Banning of the Consortium and arrest of its leaders:
9. In a surprising move the government of Mr. Biya placed a blanket ban on the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium and proceeded to arrest Barrister Felix Agbor Balla Nkongho and Dr. Fontem Neba who were leading the negotiations with the government. Meanwhile Wilfred Tassang was forced to seek refuge in a foreign embassy in Yaounde. Also arrested was Justice Ayah Paul Abine who sits on the Supreme Court of Cameroon and whose only crime is that he is the lone Anglophone on this judicial organ. This arrest of a Supreme Court judge was done by unidentified individuals without a warrant of arrest and with wanton disregard for any idea of due process of the law. This arrest is adequate proof that Cameroon has descended into legal chaos under President Paul Biya.
Switching off of internet facilities in the Anglophone region:
10. President Paul Biya further proceeded to selectively switch off internet infrastructure in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon in order to prevent the distribution of the images of the carnage and brutality which his military forces are currently perpetrating in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. I attach a document which provides proof of the decision taken at the highest level of state to switch off the internet in what the government described as “regions sensibles”. It is quite clear that following the massive deployment of the armed forces all over the Anglophone regions, the government wants to grant itself the unlimited license to commit war crimes without being held accountable for them. It should be recalled that following the attempted coup d’etat of 1984, the government of President Biya engaged in an orgy of killing of soldiers and civilians from the Northern region of Cameroon and many are buried in mass graves around the town of Mbalmayo south of Yaoundé. Based on its past record, we believe that the government of Mr. Biya is capable of anything in the Anglophone regions under the cover of the internet blackout.
Crimes against Humanity
11. Your Excellency, la République du Cameroun which has been run as a personal fiefdom by President Paul Biya for 35 years, is not a state party to the International Criminal Court. However the regime is committing acts against the English speaking minority of the British Southern Cameroons which are tantamount to crimes against humanity for which it must be held accountable before the International Criminal Court.
12. Article 7 (1) (h) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court lists among “Crimes Against Humanity” : « Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court »
13. In the specific case of a non state party like La République du Cameroun, the jurisdiction of the court can be exercised under Article 13 of the statute by which : « The Court may exercise its jurisdiction with respect to a crime referred to in article 5 in accordance with the provisions of this Statute if a situation in which one or more of such crimes appears to have been committed is referred to the Prosecutor by the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations.
14. The people of the Southern Cameroons believe that the decision of the regime of President Paul Biya to selectively place the Southern Cameroons under an internet blackout is a crime against humanity because it constitutes persecution consistent with article 7(1)(h) of the Rome statute. This decision is clearly in violation of the United Nations resolution A/HRC/32/L.20 which declared that “online freedom” is a “human right,” and one that must be protected. But this decision raises greater concerns because its avowed intention is to give the regime of President Paul Biya the license and the freedom to commit other crimes against the citizens of the Southern Cameroons under the cover of the internet blackout. Given the fact that the Conseil National de Communication under the Chairman Peter Essoka has been shutting down media houses that have given coverage in the national media to the attrocities that the armed forces of the Biya regime have been committing in the Southern Cameroons, it is abundantly clear that the regime is searching for a total media blackout over the Southern Cameroons. The question is why ?
15. Your Excellency, the prospects for the resumption of classes in the former British Southern Cameroons are bleak because the streets are now occupied by the BIR (Brigade d’Intervention Rapide), which is used primarily to intervene in the case of attacks by armed terrorists. The demonstrators and protestors in the streets have been angry unarmed students who cannot accept the use of live ammunition being fired by the police, the gendarmes and the BIR sent from other towns with instructions to use deadly force against unarmed students. The attached photos are ample testimony of what is happening on the streets of the major towns of the former British Southern Cameroons.
Separation not secession
16. The people of the former British Southern Cameroons have come to the conclusion that the only permanent solution to the Anglophone problem in Cameroon, particularly in respect to the protection of their educational system and the integrity of their judicial system, is total separation from French Cameroun in like manner to the separation that took place between Czechs and the Slovaks in Czechoslovakia in January 1993. There is a fundamental incompatibility between the French and the British way of thinking which has made it impossible for a highly educated Anglophone minority of 25-30 percent to find a proper place for itself in a country which is dominated by the Francophones. The differences between Common Law which is practised in the British Southern Cameroons and Civil law which is practised in French Cameroun are so profound that it is impossible for the two legal systems to coexist in country where political power has been centralized as it is in Cameroon under a unitary state.
17. In 1964 when Zanzibar and Tanganyika came together to form the United Republic of Tanzania, there was a signed union treaty and the instruments of ratification were adopted by the parliament of Tanganyika and Zanzibar making the union legal under international law and the said instruments were addressed to the UN Secretariat in accordance with article 102 of the UN Charter. That is why in the case of Tanzania if Zanzibar wants to leave that union, it can be called “secession”.
18. The case of Cameroon is different because in 1961, the incompetent people involved never thought of signing a formal union treaty and sending the instruments of ratification to the UN Secretariat. That means that for 55 years we have merely engaged in an informal cohabitation. Consequently the decision of the Southern Cameroons to become independent can be termed “separation” but not “secession”:
19. This distinction is important because the regime of Paul Biya is treating the people of the Southern Cameroons as secessionists. We trust that the UN secretariat will confirm from its archives that no union treaty has ever been sent to the UN Secretariat as proof that a legal union had taken place between the Southern Cameroons and the Cameroun Republic in 1961.
20. Your Excellency, as things stand at the moment it is impossible for parents to send their children back to school because trust between the armed battalions that have been sent by President Paul Biya and the population of the former British Southern Cameroons has completely collapsed. But the most disturbing development is the fact that there is increasing suspicion that the government has a secret plan to instrumentalise generalized conflict between Anglophones and Francophones who have settled amongst each other in large numbers over many years all over the country. There is reason to believe that the government would like to instigate attacks against Francophones in the former British Southern Cameroons in order to use it as a pretext to launch a much wider crackdown which could take on the proportions of ethnic cleansing and genocide such as what happened in 1984 when President Paul Biya sent his troops on a punitive mission to eliminate over 1500 northerners in Mbalmayo who have never been accounted for following the abortive coup attempt of 1984. If such a diabolical plan is allowed to materialize, the consequences would be catastrophic for the whole of Cameroon and for the entire sub region. Whatever happens in the British Southern Cameroons in the coming months shall be the result of instructions given by President Paul Biya to his army.