AS the war against the Boko Haram Islamist militants rages in Nigeria, and now neighbouring Cameroon, civilians often suffer as much at the hands of government troops, as at those of the insurgents.
After recent accusations against the Nigeria’s military of major atrocities against civilians in the fight against Boko Haram, now human rights group have accused Cameroon’s security forces too of numerous abuses against civilians in the struggle against the Nigerian militants and said some 50 people rounded up for questioning later died.
“We cannot in the name of the fight against Boko Haram, which is already tough, allow people to be petrified and terrorised by those who are supposed to protect them,” said Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, head of Cameroonian association REDHAC.
Her group said the army has used intimidation and torture in an effort to extract intelligence from locals that can be used against Nigeria-based Boko Haram fighters.
The militants have extended their brutal six-year insurgency to Niger, Chad and Cameroon, drawing a regional response to the group’s bloody campaign. The conflict has already killed some 13,000 people since 2009.
In noting the state’s alleged abuses, Ngo Mbe told of around 50 people who suffocated recently while locked in a cell after being rounded up for questioning from two villages in far northern Cameroon.
The victims, she said, were subsequently buried in a mass grave in the bush, but did not provide any further details.
A spokesman for Cameroon’s army told AFP: “We have no comment to make. The NGOs have their role. We have nothing to say.”
Ngo Mbe’s group said far northern Cameroon has become a zone of numerous right violations as locals have become trapped between militants and the government.
“Army soldiers commit abuses on residents while disregarding international human rights,” she told reporters Wednesday.
On Monday a Cameroonian military officer said more than 1,000 suspected Boko Haram fighters were being held in Maroua at a prison in the country’s far north.
Nigeria’s military has also been accused of major abuses in the fight against Boko Haram, with the cases cited being so extreme some groups said they amounted to “to powerful evidence that elements of the Nigerian state could be guilty of war crimes”, according a Channel 4 report last year.
The programme examined dozens of videos and eyewitness testimonies that showed how innocent civilians are being tortured, imprisoned, even murdered by the Nigerian army and their civilian militia.
It cited reports by human rights investigators who said as many 4,000 people have died in military custody since the conflict escalated two years ago.
Abuses against civilians by government armies in counter-insurgency wars are common in parts of Africa that have faced conflict. They usually play into the hands of rebels as some civilians decide to join them, or become apathetic because they see no different between the government and insurgents.
Some analysts argue that the abuses by the Nigerian army, have hampered its attempts to overcome the militants.
-Additional reporting by AFP