YAOUNDE, Cameroon 

Human Rights Watch on Friday accused armed Anglophone separatists of abusing the civilian population.

In a statement, the rights group said Cameroon​​​​​​​ separatists have also hindered the delivery of humanitarian assistance, killed and tortured those who they suspect of collaborating with the country’s authorities and security forces.

“We are at the mercy of their guns,” HRW quoted a 35-year-old resident of Bafut, North-West region, as saying. “Separatist fighters harass everyone. They ask for money, and if you are unable to pay, they threaten or kidnap you.”

HRW also urged the Cameroon Armed Forces, who have conducted multiple abusive operations in the Anglophone regions, to do better, to provide effective civilian protection.

The rights group said separatists kidnapped John (not his real name), a medical doctor in Cameroon’s English-speaking North-West region, on Feb. 27 and took him to their camp.

“They said I had to give them money to support their struggle for independence, to buy guns,” John told HRW. “They told me not to tell what happened to anyone; otherwise, they would kill me and anyone in my family.”

It said the UN Security Council and Cameroon’s international partners should make it clear to separatist leaders that there are consequences for these crimes, including targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes on those who bear responsibility for those committing the abuses.

The Central African country has been marred by protests and violence since late 2016, with residents in English-speaking regions saying they have been marginalized for decades by the central government and the French-speaking majority.

They are calling for independence or a return to a federal state.

Violence in the Anglophone regions over the last four years has claimed an estimated 3,000 lives and caused the displacement of over 730,000 civilians, according to the Human Rights Watch.

Last year, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said for a second year running Cameroon topped the list as the most neglected crisis on the planet in 2019.

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