NEW YORK, 26 February 2021 – Cameroonian soldiers raped at least 20 women and girls in an attack on a village in the occupied Southern Cameroons aka Ambazonia, a rights group said Friday.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said its researchers have gathered evidence on the attack on Ebam village, in the southern zone of the self-declared Republic of Ambazonia.
The attacks occurred almost a year ago, on 1 March 2020, and involved about 50 Cameroonian soldiers, according to accounts by eyewitnesses and rape survivors.
The soldiers attacked the village beginning at about 3 a.m. and by the end of the assault, they had broken into almost every single one of the 75 homes in the village.
The soldiers rounded up the men and boys and randomly selected the girls and women who were raped.
The rape victims included four women/girls with disabilities.
The dozens of men rounded up were beaten for long hours.
As their wailing broke up the silence of the night, their voices mingled with the cries and loud screams of horror and pain coming from the women and girls violated by their rapists.
One man who reportedly tried to prevent his daughter from being raped was dragged into a nearly farm and summarily executed, accounts by Ambazonians on WhatsApp groups alleged soon after the attack was first reported.
All the attackers were French-speaking soldiers from neighboring :La Repulbique du Cameroun and all the victims were English-speaking Southern Cameroonians aka Ambazonians.
Cameroonian forces have systematically targeted communities, killing innocent civilians and burning down homes on claims that English-speaking civilians are either supporters of the campaign for a breakaway republic or are guerrilla fighters for the cause.
HRW described the attack on Ebam as one of the worst atrocities carried out by French-speaking Cameroonian soldiers.
The New York-based rights group says the rape cases had gone unreported for so long because victims feared stigmatization.
Victims felt afraid to come forward, worrying that reporting their rape would open them up to further attacks from soldiers and would trigger rejection as well as bring them shame within their communities.
“One year on, survivors of the Ebam attack are desperate for justice and reparations, and they live with the disturbing knowledge that those who abused them are walking free and have faced no consequences,” HRW researcher Ida Sawy’er said in a statement.
HRW says the report is based on months of careful gathering and verification of evidence based on the conduct of scores of interviews between last August and January 2021.
Eyewitnesses, rape survivors and a doctor who treated them were among those interviewed for the report.
One rape survivor narrated her ordeal as follows:
“Five masked soldiers entered my home,” HRW cites a 40-year-old victim of rape as saying.
The soldier assigned to rape the victim told her: “if you don’t have sex with me, I will kill you”.
The rape victim continues: “I was too afraid to say or do anything. After the rape, I ran into the bush where I spent two months. I am still upset and traumatized”.
Human Rights Watch describes the attack as a reprisal attack to punish civilians suspected of collaborating with pro-independence fighters.
As with every other report alleging rights violations, war crimes, and atrocity crimes in Southern Cameroons, the spokesperson for the Cameroonian army, Colonel Cyrille Atonfack dismissed the report.
“We have better things to do than to react to this report,” Col. Atonfack told Reuters, before accusing the rights group.
“Human Rights Watch is clearly complicit in the terrorists’ atrocities,” said Col. Atonfack, using Yaounde’s favorite dehumanizing term – “terrorists” – to describe pro-independence campaigners and mostly young men who have risen as self-defense volunteers for English-speaking Southern Cameroonians.
Human Rights Watch now says more than 3,500 people have been slaughtered in the war in Southern Cameroons aka Ambazonia since 2016, the second time HRW has reported more than 2,000 deaths.
After more than two years when the number of deaths acknowledged in reports appeared to have been frozen at 2,0000, HRW last January raised the death toll to 3,000 and in this most recent report has the death toll at more than 3,500.
Southern Cameroonian pro-independence campaigners say the death toll is closer to 20,000 than it is to 3,500.