Thank you, honourable members, for giving me this opportunity to discuss the human rights and humanitarian situation in the anglophone part of Cameroon.
As far back as October 2016, there were peaceful protests in anglophone Cameroon by lawyers and teachers, which degenerated into the crisis we are facing today. As a result of government repression of the lawyers, the teachers and civil society, who were clamouring for a better legal and educational system and against the erosion of common law, the struggle degenerated into the armed struggle we have today. Most of the moderate leaders were arrested and charged in a military tribunal on grounds of terrorism, secession and incitement of civil war, and during that period the struggle moved from clamouring for a federation and for better living conditions to an independence movement.
The government has not made things easy for the moderates and for those who believe in the unity of the state, with the constant arrests and detention of pro-democracy activists and of those who are just clamouring for better rights for anglophones. The burning down of villages and the destruction of livelihoods has led to a refugee and humanitarian catastrophe in the anglophone part of the country. There are extrajudicial killings. Close to 1,000 anglophones are currently detained at various prisons in the country. The judicial process is very slow. The average time for a matter to come up for a hearing is up to eight months. I am a living witness. I was detained for eight months and released on the 30th with others by the president of the republic. But, during this period, the tension has only increased.
We believe that there is a need for an all-inclusive dialogue. The government has to speak to each and every Cameroonian, each and every anglophone, and the government has to speak to those who have taken up arms against the government, because only through a veritable and holistic dialogue will we find a solution to the crisis that is affecting us.
Cameroon is in a very interesting part of the continent. It's in west and central Africa. It borders the regions of both CEMAC and ECOWAS. If Cameroon goes down, then Chad, Gabon, Congo and Nigeria also go down with it.
I am here today to plead with this House to try to see how we can find a solution. The gross human rights violations, the crimes against humanity and the war crimes taking place in the country need to stop. Voices have to be heard. We have a shared humanity. We have a responsibility to protect. Canadian MPs, Canadian businessmen and women, and Canadian diplomatic missions owe us Cameroonians a duty to ensure that we find a solution to the crisis.
Cameroon, like Canada, is a bilingual, bicultural and bijural country. French and English are the official languages of the country, meaning that we share something in common. Both of us are in the Commonwealth. Cameroon is in the Commonwealth with Canada. Cameroon is also in the Francophonie as is Canada. That means that Canada has some leverage that can play in the Commonwealth and also in the Francophonie for us to find a solution to the situation.
The Canadian mission in Cameroon has made statements at times condemning or calling for dialogue, but we think that it is not enough. They need to go beyond just making statements and condemnations. We think that this committee can issue a public statement condemning the gross human rights violations taking place in the country, condemning the war crimes and the crimes against humanity taking place by both parties, because there are also armed groups committing atrocities in the country.
It is important also to call on government to create an enabling environment so that the more than 500,000 internally displaced persons can return to their villages, and the more than 50,000 refugees can return to their villages, and to also ensure that those who are currently detained have access to their lawyers. The process should be free and fair, and civilians should not be tried in a military tribunal. We have jurisprudence from the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in 2009 that clearly stated that anglophones cannot be arrested in the southwest and northwest regions and tried in a military tribunal. More often than not, they are tried in the French language, which most of them don't understand.
The military tribunal bases itself on the 2014 anti-terrorism law. The law is not really to fight against terrorism. It's a law that was passed to fight against dissent, against those who are clamouring for change. When the law was passed, most people did not understand that the law would be used to try anglophones. Everybody thought it would be used to try Boko Haram offences.
The Canadians, the MPs, have to tell the government that it is inconceivable for civilians to be tried in a military tribunal. There is a need for a dialogue. There is also a need for MPs, for Canadians, to urge the government, if we cannot find a solution, to ask the people of Southern Cameroons to exercise their right to a referendum, which is provided for in the constitution.
Some are clamouring for a federation, and others believe in the independence of the state of Southern Cameroons. We are in a democracy, and the best course would be to give the people of Southern Cameroons the option to decide in the federation whether they want to stay in the current dispensation or to have a separate state.
In the meantime, since this is a political process that would take a long time—it's very cumbersome— we need to address the human rights violations that are taking place. We need to ensure that the humanitarian catastrophe is brought to the attention of the national and international communities. Canada can raise it at the level of the Security Council, or at the level of the General Assembly. Canada can have discussions with its other partners, like the U.S., the U.K. and the EU, so that we find a solution to this catastrophe.
It is not really reported in mainstream media the way it's supposed to be done, and that's a very unfortunate situation. In the southwest and northwest regions that constitute Southern Cameroons, the situation is deplorable. Children no longer go to school, there is fear, the civilian population has been terrorized and extrajudicial killing runs riot. There is no day in the southwest and the northwest where young men are not shot and killed for no just reason—just because they look like terrorists, or because they are dressed like members of one of the arms groups. Nobody gives them an opportunity to tell their story.
We have a myriad of examples. On July 30, five young men were sitting around a park in Buea, which used to be the capital of the German Cameroon and the British Cameroons. Four of them were shot to death; one survived. Fortunately for us, we were going somewhere, and we saw him and took him to a hospital, but BIR, the military guys, went there to look for him. We had to take him out of the hospital and he's currently in treatment. We have other examples. Last month, 12 young men were shot and killed in a house.
These extrajudicial killings have been documented. Nobody gives any reason for them. Because there is an armed struggle, because the government argues that they are supposed to be protecting the civilians, the government has taken it upon itself to kill people without any reason. There is not much we can do in the country because everybody is scared. The president will be in power for the next seven years, and if a solution is not found to the problem, we will be sliding into a civil war. Some have argued that we are already there. What is certain is that with each passing day we degenerate further towards civil war.