The Human Rights Watch, HRW, a group that defends the rights of people worldwide, has accused Cameroonian soldiers of raping at least, 20 women, an assault that didn’t spare four disabled women while they also killed a man in a raid last year in an English-speaking secessionist region.
The activist group said in a statement that some of the troops arrested men giving way for others to molest the women. This was disclosed after months of investigation by the rights groups.
HRW, which spoke to survivors and witnesses by phone between August and January said the attack against the village of Ebam, in the country’s southwest, was one of the most horrible atrocities the army has perpetrated in its four-year battle with armed separatists.
It also disclosed a 34-year-old man was killed by soldiers in a forest surrounding the village.
Witnesses explained to HRW that over 50 heavily armed soldiers arrived at Ebam by foot before dawn on March 1 last year, on the suspicion that some civilians teamed up with separatist fighters and went ahead to shelter them.
In 2017, resentment over years of perceived discrimination at the hands of Cameroon’s francophone majority resulted in a declaration of independence by anglophone radicals.
Their self-declared state, Ambazonia, has not been recognised internationally, and the central government in Yaounde has responded with a crackdown.
“Sexual violence and torture are heinous crimes that governments have an obligation to immediately, effectively, and independently investigate, and to bring those responsible to justice,” said Ida Sawyer, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“One year on, survivors of the Ebam attack are desperate for justice and reparations, and they live with the disturbing knowledge that those who abused them are walking free and have faced no consequences.”
AFP reports that the army declined to comment when contacted.
One 40-year-old woman told HRW that five masked soldiers entered her home.
“One of them abused me. He said: ‘If you don’t have sex with me, I will kill you!’. I was too afraid to say or do anything,” the woman told the rights group.
“After the rape, I ran into the bush where I spent two months. I am still upset and traumatised.”
None of the rape victims could receive medical care immediately after the attack partly because of the cost of treatment and social stigma, said HRW, who nonetheless interviewed a doctor who later screened the women.
HRW also said that soldiers took at least 36 men to a nearby military base where they beat them and used violence that amounted to torture.
Villagers also alleged that soldiers snatched money and other items from the homes they broke into