Cameroonian soldiers raped at least 20 women, including four with disabilities, and killed a man in a raid last year in an English-speaking secessionist region, Human Rights Watch said Friday.
HRW said the attack against the village of Ebam, in the country’s southwest, was one of the worst the army has committed in its four-year battle with armed separatists.
A number of soldiers rounded up men, while others raped at least 20 women, including four with disabilities, the activist group said in a statement after speaking by phone to survivors and witnesses between August and January.
It added a 34-year-old man was killed by soldiers in a forest surrounding the village.
Witnesses were quoted as saying that more than 50 soldiers entered Ebam by foot before dawn on March 1 last year, in retaliation against civilians suspected of cooperating with separatist fighters, including offering them shelter.
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 recognized 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.”
#Cameroon: an attack on Mar 1, 2020 in #Ebam, SW region, has come to light in which soldiers raped 20 women+arrested 35 men+killed 1 man. The attack, which went unreported for 1 year, was 1of the worst by Cameroon’s army in recent years. New @hrw report 👇https://t.co/7rRYKOKWty pic.twitter.com/WzF2YEYz6z
— ilaria allegrozzi (@ilariallegro) February 26, 2021
The army declined to comment when contacted by AFP.
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 traumatized.”
None of the rape victims could receive medical care immediately after the attack partly because of 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 reported soldiers stole money and other items from the homes they broke into.
Rights groups have accused both the separatists and government troops of having killed civilians during the separatist conflict since 2017.
The fighting has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people and forced over 700,000 to flee their homes.