Separatists fighting to create an English-speaking state in western Cameroon have described as grossly one-sided a rights group report says that separatists attack schools, train children as fighters and have deprived at least 700,000 children from having education since 2017. Human Rights Watch also says government troops organized abusive counter insurgencies that affected education. Thousands of children who have fled the English-speaking regions relocated.
Twenty-one-year-old Kingsley Wirba warms up the engine of his motorcycle taxi as he gets ready to work in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé. Wirba says his hope of having education was shattered when separatists called Amba fighters torched his school in Kumbo, an English-speaking northwestern town in 2017.
“Some of these Amba fighters will come and attack the school, threaten our teachers, beat you up,” said Wirba. “One day like that we went to school, the fighters came, attacked one part of the school and had it burned down. There was no way for us to continue school there. I did not leave alone. Hundreds of students left. Even the teachers ran away.”
Wirba said his father was killed in 2017 during a gun battle between separatists and government troops in Kumbo. He said he drives a motorcycle taxi each day to be able to take care of himself and his younger sister in Yaoundé.
Eighteen-year-old Stella Monyuy says she also escaped from Kumbo in 2017. Monyuy says her parents decided to send her to Yaoundé to get an education after she was abducted along with 200 other school children in Kumbo.
“The Amba boys came in and ordered all of us to follow them. We trekked around 13 kilometers in the bush. We had no water to drink, nothing to ea,” said Monyuy. “Our parents contributed money and we were released, but we were really tortured in the bush.”
In the report Human Rights Watch says attacks on education have become a hallmark of the crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions.
The report says separatist groups have killed, beaten, abducted and terrorized hundreds of students and teachers in the Anglophone regions. HRW says separatists attack and torch school buildings, use schools as their bases and camps to store weapons and munitions and to torture and hold people hostage.
The right group’s central Africa researcher, Ilaria Allegrozzi, quotes the UN as saying that 700,000 Cameroonian children have been deprived of education since 2017. She spoke to VOA via a messaging app.
“Separatist groups are robbing an entire generation of children of their fundamental right to education,” said Allegrozzi. “Attacks on education have also led to forced displacements of teachers and students and also to early pregnancies after children drop out, and [to] child labor.”
But separatists have described the report as grossly exaggerated. Capo Daniel, deputy defense chief of the separatist group Ambazonia Defense Council says the military also carries out attacks on education.
“The report of the Human Rights Watch is completely one-sided. It fails to mention specific incidents where the Cameroon military has attacked schools within our territory,” said Daniel. “There are the incidents in CPC Bali where the Cameroon government troops rounded up the entire school and made children lie in mud. There are many instances where Cameroon government troops have burned down schools including the partial burning of Sacred Heart College,”
However, the Human Rights Watch report says that government troops have often been brutal in responding to the threats posed by separatist groups. It says the Cameroon military carries out abusive counterinsurgency operations leading to the killing of civilians and the burning and destruction of property.
Allegrozzi says both separatist fighters and government troops should stop attacking schools, which she says are supposed to be safe havens in times of violence.
Cameroon’s military has denied that its troops attack schools and kill civilians.
Various separatist groups in Cameroon have always blamed each other and the military for attacking schools.
Human Rights Watch calls on the government of Cameroon to address the current climate of impunity and ensure that those responsible for attacks on education are held accountable.