Thank you, Mr. President. Let me begin by joining my colleagues in congratulating Kuwait as you begin your presidency of the council. And thank you, Special Representative Fall, for your briefing today and for the efforts that you do that continue to play a central role towards strengthening the political, security and economic conditions of the countries of Central Africa.
In Cameroon, in particular, your work to promote a peaceful resolution of the crisis in the Northwest and the Southwest regions is of singular importance.
Mr. President, the United States remains gravely concerned by the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation in Cameroon. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated in April that 4.3 million people in Cameroon – roughly 17 percent of the population – need humanitarian assistance.
We have heard disturbing reports of armed groups and Cameroonian authorities obstructing humanitarian aid delivery by establishing road checkpoints, seizing supplies, demanding bribes, and detaining personnel. Bureaucratic impediments and movement restrictions further exacerbate the situation. This must stop now. We call on all parties to enable unhindered humanitarian access to deliver life-saving assistance to all those in need, and to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
We welcome the Cameroonian government’s development of an emergency humanitarian assistance plan and coordination center for the ongoing crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. However, we must underscore that for these efforts to be successful they must adhere to the humanitarian assistance principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.
The international community, with the support of the Cameroonian government, should continue implementing a coordinated and robust humanitarian response. Since the beginning of fiscal year 2018, the U.S. government has contributed over $87 million to provide humanitarian assistance to host communities, IDPs, and refugees in Cameroon. This aid is critical, but it is only effective when we have access to the vulnerable populations.
Human rights abuses and violations in the affected regions are also concerning. Continued reports of attacks on civilians, including extrajudicial killings, are extremely troublesome. We urge all parties to refrain from these abuses, and the Government of Cameroon to hold all those responsible accountable in transparent and fair trials.
We thank the UN and civil society representatives for their brave reporting on the status of human rights and call for all parties to cease actions that could hinder human rights reporting in the two regions. The Cameroonian government’s recent decision to deny entry to a researcher from an international NGO is regrettable.
We are similarly concerned by increasing restrictions on political pluralism. The government arrested Cameroon Renaissance Movement leader Maurice Kamto and hundreds of his followers in late January following peaceful demonstrations, and subsequently arrested more than 100 party members on June 1 as they attempted to hold a peaceful march. Many of these individuals remain in pre-trial detention on dubious charges. We call on the government to move trial proceedings for political detainees to civilian courts and to respect fair trial guarantees in accordance with Cameroon’s obligations under international law.
Mr. President, we welcome the Prime Minister’s visit to the Northwest and Southwest regions to talk about the ongoing crisis with affected parties, which we view as a very positive step. We welcome President Biya’s instruction to speed up the decentralization mandated by the 1996 Constitution.
The international community will support the Cameroonian government in its efforts to open an inclusive dialogue with the separatists. We encourage the government to consider these options. Likewise, we strongly urge those supporting the separatist cause, particularly those living in the diaspora, to join talks without pre-conditions.
We urge the African Union and ECCAS to play an even stronger role in promoting peace and security in Cameroon through dialogue. Our colleagues frequently remind of us of the AU’s leadership role and conflict prevention on the African continent. We urge AU leaders to play a constructive role in trying to find a solution to the current political impasse that is causing this humanitarian crisis. One way to do this is by joining ECASS and the UN for joint visits to engage all Cameroonian actors in supporting dialogue.
Finally, Mr. President, we look forward to the strategic review of UNOCA’s mandate later this year. We anticipate further discussions with Special Representative Fall and his staff to ensure that UNOCA’s mandate is focused on the most pressing challenges in the Central African region, while coordinating strategically with other UN offices operating there as well. Thank you, Mr. President.