Cameroon may fall further into violence if government does not stop hate speech by politicians and heavy-handed tactics by security forces, the UN human rights chief said.
Long-running tensions erupted into conflicts with separatists in south-west and Islamists in north-west, prompting crackdowns by security forces and leaving 1.3 million people in need of aid, according to the United Nations.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the neighbouring Sahel region took an innovative approach to protecting civilians during counter-terrorism operations. Legal advisors and UN rights experts were working with armed forces in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
She urged Cameroon to adopt a similar approach, after a UN rights committee noted “the heavy-handed approach of security forces to the crisis including destruction of medical facilities, schools, essential infrastructure and entire villages”.
“I am also concerned by alarming instances of hate speech, including by political leaders, as well as serious restrictions on the political space, with prosecutions in a military court of opposition party members,” the former Chilean president wrote in a report to the UN Human Rights Council.
“It is essential steps be taken now to de-escalate the increasing crisis in the country and prevent a further descent into violence.”
Last week Cameroon Foreign Minister Lejeune Mbella told the council his government was increasing rights training for civil servants and security forces.
“The defence and security force remain professional in their behaviour despite aggression against them by Boko Haram and barbaric attacks by so-called separatist armed gangs,” he said.
Accusations of violations by security personnel were being investigated “diligently” and would be punished, Mbella added.
In the past few months, 40,000 refugees fled into Cameroon from Rann, a Nigerian town repeatedly attacked by Islamist insurgents Boko Haram. Islamic State also claimed attacks in the area.
More than 30,000 refugees returned to Rann last week after accepting assurances about an improvement in security.
Earlier this year, UNHCR criticised Cameroon for turning away fleeing Nigerians adding Cameroon gave assurances last week that refugees from Rann were not forced to return.