The Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: The Case of the Anglophone Armed Conflict
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The Anglophone armed conflict in Cameroon which started in 2016 has caused inexpressible anguish to the civilian population within the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon. Many people have been forced to leave their homes and find safety in other places due to the increasing violence, torture, extortion, rape, arbitrary arrest and detentions, and above all the killing of civilians within the restive regions.
The civilian population continue to pay the price of the conflict as their house are burnt, properties are destroyed, killing of their loved ones, kidnapping and a whole lots of other consequences from the conflict on the civilian population.
The study critically examined the protection of civilians in the Anglophone armed conflict. Looking differently, the study aimed to investigate the mechanisms put in place to protect the civilian population in the Anglophone armed conflict in Cameroon. The study is bordered by the theoretical viewpoint of the Frustration and Aggression theory.
The study focused on the theory to understand the causes of the conflict in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. Both primary and secondary data sources were effectively utilized and the qualitative descriptive research method was chosen.
The study reveals some policies put in place to protect the civilian population in armed conflict in the world. These policies the International Humanitarians Law, International Human Right Law, Humanitarian Actors and the Court. More so, the study found out that the conflict has affected the civilian population in diverse ways.
From the displacement of people, sexual gender-based violence and rape, destruction of properties and loss of lives. All these effects on the civilian population are a result of the non-compliance of the International Humanitarian Law by the belligerent, the changes in the means and method of warfare and others. The belligerents in the field carry out the extrajudicial killing of the civilian population, arbitrary arrest, kidnapping, extortion and burning of houses.
All of which is in total violation of the International Humanitarian Law and the International Human Right Law. In this light, the study recommends that the government consider establishing a mechanism for collecting information on civilian rights violations.
This mechanism will be seen as the monitoring mechanism which will unravel all atrocities committed by the belligerents in the field. Also, an ad hoc community should be established to investigate the atrocities already committed in the field so that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.
Although the history of armed conflicts, civilians have always been victims of serious violence and torture and human rights violations. The international humanitarian law (IHL) through the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 has required the protection of civilian populations in armed conflict. The Geneva Conventions guide with regard to the obligations of states and parties to a conflict to apply the principle of distinction and to ensure precaution in attack as they pursue their military objectives. This was the first international legal framework to provide for the protection of civilians and forms the foundation of the ‘Protection of Civilians’ concept (Wynn-Pope, 2014: 65).
In the 1990s, worrying disappointments to protect civilians from violence and atrocities shaped the rationale at the United Nations (UN) which gave rise to a more expansive concept of Protection of Civilians, incorporating international human rights law, international refugee law, and including best practices in peacekeeping operations and humanitarian response. This is reflected in the adoption of Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict as a thematic concern of the UN Security Council, and the development of policy and guidance relating to civilian protection since 1999, at the United Nations and elsewhere. The term ‘Protection of Civilians’ has expanded from a set of legal obligations in IHL to a conceptual and operational framework used by multiple ‘protection actors’ and practitioners, military and civilian, and political and humanitarian actors.
The “Protection of civilians” concept was developed in the 19th century as an idea with regard to soldiers and wounded combatants in the conflict. This was further nurtured in 1949 at the Four Geneva Convention and then in 1977 when two protocols were added to the 1949 text, dealing specifically with a non-combatant population in international colonial armed conflicts. The historical origin of Protection of Civilians (POC) is associated with the emergence of norms with the development of the principles of discrimination and to an extend proportionality to the Geneva Convention (Spanu, 2016: 43).
During the past two decades, the world has witnessed armed conflicts marked by systematic violence and mass atrocities against civilians and has increasingly looked to the United Nations (UN), and in particular to UN peacekeeping operations, to prevent and or halt such crimes. The failures of missions to provide security in complex crises such as Somalia, and to protect civilians from mass atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia, tested the fundamental principles and capabilities of UN peacekeeping operations and demonstrated that reform was urgently required. Since then, remarkable efforts have been made to improve the overall effectiveness of UN peacekeeping operations, including their capabilities to protect civilians. For a decade, the UN Security Council has also expressed its resolve to support more effective missions and to put a greater spotlight on the protection of civilians, as seen by its series of statements and resolutions, and the request that the Secretary-General issue regular reports on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. More tangibly, UN peacekeeping mandates have changed, as the Council has shifted peacekeeping well beyond its traditional role of monitoring the implementation of peace agreements over the last decade (Holt, 2009: 2).
The 1949 Geneva Conventions and its two Additional Protocols of 1977 constitute the core of the legal framework regulating behaviour in war, including for the protection of civilians and other persons that do not take part in hostilities (wounded, sick and captured combatants). The common Article 3 to the Four Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II established rules for international and internal armed conflicts, imposing obligations on states and non-state armed groups alike. Moreover, most of the fundamental rules about the protection of civilians are considered to be customary humanitarian law in both international and internal armed conflicts, and binding on all states, whether signatories or not to the relevant treaty, as well as non-state armed groups (Carmilla, 2011: 3-4).
International mandatory bodies such as the African Union (AU), European Union (EU) and the United Nations have continued to limit the effects of war and protection of civilians by regulating how wars are fought. A close examination of the conflict in Syria, Central Africa Republic, South Sudan, Libya, Yemen and hosts others shows the challenges these efforts continue to face. Armed Conflicts have resulted in the loss of lives, displacement of persons, destruction of properties, separation of families, violations and human rights abuses, and loss of the people’s dignity and livelihood. Due to this, the need for effective approaches that ensure the protection of civilians has continued to be a growing concern, thus, the need for tangible progress has been made in enhancing the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Since the end of the Second World War (WWII), there have been relative nominative developments in the protection of civilians. Today, belligerents are subjected to far more limitations on how they fight, but they do not apply to them. The lack of compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL) exacts a heavy price on civilians (Spanu, 2016: 56).
Considerable progress has been achieved since the first landmark resolution 1265. The resolution established the deliberate targeting of civilian populations or other protected persons and the committing of systematic, flagrant and widespread violation of International Humanitarian and Human Rights laws in situations of armed conflict as a threat to international peace and security. Although the Security Council has increased the frequency of its civilian protection mandate, it has not issued clear guidance on what this entails (Kapelet 2012: 3). Concern for the vulnerable civilian populations in areas of conflict has grown beyond the human right and relief communities. Emerging as a political and normative force among international leaders, the United Nations (UN) has recently been at the forefront of recognizing and articulating the need to protect civilians during conflicts. Thus, the United Nations Security Council has been authorizing peace missions to protect civilians populations in conflict. The UN includes this goal, particularly in its African Peace Mission where predation of civilians during conflict is common. (Hamilton, 2014: 9-10).
The primary obligation to protect civilians affected by conflict lies with national governments and parties to conflicts. However, when these actors are unable and unwilling to fulfil this obligation, the international community in particular the United Nations Security Council has the mandatory responsibility to recognize the plight of civilians caught up in conflict and to take action to protect them. The protection of civilians has become the centrepiece of many peace support missions. Today, even when a mission does not have a specific protection mandate, there is an expectation that the civilian population will be protected against attack by armed groups (Hamilton 2014: 9-10).
The crisis that started in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon in 2016 due to the demands from the Anglophone Teachers and Lawyers has been growing unresolved. This crisis that started as a peaceful strike action staged by the lawyers and teachers has grown into a full-blown armed conflict between the separatist fighters and the regular army. This has caused an untold human suffering to the civilian population living in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. Many civilians in the Anglophone Regions of Cameroon have lost their lives, their properties have been destroyed such as their houses burnt down to aches, business grumble, the family lose their loved ones, families are separated and many other sufferings to the civilian population due to the outbreak of the armed conflict between the separatist fighters and the regular government forces. The civilian populations have experienced a high degree of violation of Human Rights, torture, maiming, rape and the alarming rate of suffering within the civilians population and the use of civilians by the combatants to spread fear and terror have orchestrated the reason behind this research. Thus, the research seeks to investigate the protection of civilians in armed conflict in the case of the Anglophone conflict in Cameroon.
The common Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949 regulates the method of internal conflicts. The Additional Protocol II specifically applies to non-international armed conflicts between State armed forces and organized armed groups. This protocol regulates the method of conflict to protect civilians in conflict zones. The Additional Protocols extend this protection to any person affected by an armed conflict. The furthermore stipulates that the parties to the conflict and individual combatants must not attack the civilian population or civilian objects and must conduct their military operations in conformity with the recognized rules of international humanitarian law.
According to the IHL, there are basic rules, which require that a distinction must be made at all times between the civilian populations, and combatants must adhere to these rules in carrying out their activities. Any person not belonging to the armed forces is a civilian. Civilian objects are all objects, which are not military objects, that is, which do not make an effective contribution to military action and whose destruction, capture or neutralization would not, in the circumstances prevailing at the time, offer a definite military advantage. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Not only must civilians and civilian objects not be the object of attack, but every feasible precaution must also be taken, in attacking or locating military objects, to avoid, and in any event minimize, incidental civilian losses and damage. In no case, may these losses and or damage be excessive about the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated?
The prohibition on attacking the civilian population, destroying objects indispensable to their survival and attacking installations containing dangerous forces and cultural objects applies equally to non-international armed conflicts. It is the responsibility of military commanders, in particular, to see that these rules are observed.
Despite all the above-mentioned measures taken at the 1949 Geneva Convention aimed to protect civilians, many civilians are still victims in Africa and especially in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon. According to Hamilton (2014: 9), more than six hundred thousand (600,000) African civilians have been massacred in the past two decades. Tens of millions, more have been killed in battles, displaced or perished from indirect causes of such attacks and the continent’s armed conflicts. Out of the fourteen United Nations-led missions with mandates that include the protections of civilians twelve were conducted in Africa.
In Cameroon, in 2016, strike action was staged by teachers and lawyers of Anglophone extraction of Cameroon, transformed into a full-blown armed conflict that has been on for four years on. This has resulted in unspeakable suffering for the civilian populations living in the conflict in Cameroon. The civilian population experiences direct violence such as rape, killing, kidnapping and a host of other sufferings. Combatants on their part are using the civilians as shields, and a source of revenue for their activities. They also use the civilian population to spread fear and terror among the people which is totally against the International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
The scorched-earth policy, which has left over 500 villages raised to ashes, indiscriminate killings and arbitrary arrest and executions are some of the ordeals the civilians continue to face. Even children of 4 months or 8 months old are shot or roasted at a close range. Thousands of Anglophone civilians are in the various detention centres across the country. Mayhem is being unleashed by both sides of the conflict but more from the side of the state armed forces which the entity is a signatory. Despite all the atrocities on the civilian population and the suffering which are against the International Humanitarian Law, nothing has been done either by the national government or the international community, which is why the research seeks to investigate the effects on the civilian population by the belligerent and the indifference and silence of the international community, whose protocols are being violated.
To this backdrop, the study seeks to examine the protection of civilians in armed conflict: The case of the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon.
From the above statement, the following research questions will guide the study.
What are the policies put in place to protect civilians in armed conflict around the world and to what extent are these policies being respected in the Anglophone armed conflict?
How are civilians affected by the Anglophone armed conflict in Cameroon?
What hinders the smooth functioning of protection of civilians in the Anglophone armed conflict in Cameroon?
The study comprises general and specific objectives
This study has a general objective, to critically examine the policies of protection of civilians in the Anglophone conflict in Cameroon
The following specific objectives guided this study.
- To examine the policies put in place to protect the civilians in armed conflict around the world and the extent to which the policies are being respected in the Anglophone armed conflict.
- To investigate the effects of the Anglophone armed conflict on civilians in Anglophone Cameroon.
- To assess the challenges faced in the effective protection of civilians in the Anglophone conflict in Cameroon.