Friday, February 28, 2020

Atrocities in Anglophone Regions: the University of Toronto triggers the collection of evidence

In December 2019, the University of Toronto launched a new initiative, the Global Database of Atrocities, to collect and store information about the atrocities perpetrated in the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon.

The English-speaking crisis in Cameroon appeared in 2016 but is based on long-standing and unresolved problems concerning the political, economic and social marginalization of the English-speaking minority community. The English-speaking community represents approximately 20% of the country's population, the remaining 80% being French-speaking. In 2016, English-speaking lawyers and teachers took to the streets to protest against the appointment by the government of French-speaking judges and teachers and against the introduction of procedures in French in the courts and schools of the English-speaking region. The response to the protests was marked by the excessive use of violence. 

In the months that followed, the situation only deteriorated. This has provided fertile ground for the emergence and / or engagement of several non-state groups. As the International Crisis Group reported in September 2019, since 2017, as a result of the crisis, around 3,000 people have been killed, more than 500,000 have become internally displaced people (IDPs) and 40,000 have sought refuge in Nigeria. In November 2019, UNICEF reported that almost 2 million people in English-speaking regions were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. 855,000 children had to leave school due to the crisis. 

Government forces accused of participating in extrajudicial executions, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force, torture, forced displacement, rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war and attacks against hospitals. Non-state actors involved in the crisis have been accused of using torture, abduction, violence, rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war.

The new initiative, the atrocities database, aims to "collect, verify, secure and publish information on atrocities or crimes against humanity committed by Cameroonian armed groups and non-state armed groups". The new initiative recognizes that to ensure justice in the future, evidence of the atrocities must be gathered now. Indeed, the data collected now could be used to prosecute those most responsible for the crimes, whether in national courts or in some form of international court. It could also be used in a future national truth, justice and reconciliation commission. 

The authors of the initiative invite anyone with relevant information, including photos, videos, documents or any other evidence of the atrocities of October 2016 in the northwest and southwest English-speaking region of Cameroon, to submit information on its processed site. The atrocity database is hosted at the University of Toronto and is supported by the Digital Verification Corps of Amnesty International (University of California-Berkeley, University of Toronto, University of Pretoria and University of Essex) which will the cheking process. 

The new initiative is to be welcomed.  International actors may be too slow to act to put in place mechanisms that could help collect evidence of such atrocities and to ensure that justice is done in the future. Civil society actors are mobilizing to fill the gap. Time will tell only if the database triggers the necessary attention and is able to secure the evidence.  However, as the evidence is gathered, it is crucial to explore options on how the evidence could be used to ensure justice for the victims and survivors of the atrocities. Cameroon, although it has signed the Rome Statute, the treaty underlying the International Criminal Court (ICC), has not ratified the Rome Statute and does not is therefore not subject to the territorial jurisdiction of the ICC. however, given the massive forced displacement of thousands of Cameroonians to Nigeria (a state party to the Rome Statute), the ICC could (potentially) obtain the requested jurisdiction following the previous handling of the situation in Myanmar / Bangladesh. However, there are also other options. Where there is a will, there is a way to end impunity.