After four years of conflict, people living in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon may finally have reason to be optimistic. On New Year’s Day, the US Senate passed a strongly-worded resolution paving the way for punitive sanctions on those responsible for atrocities in Cameroon.

In a rare bipartisan motion, the US Congress slammed the Francophone-dominated government of President Paul Biya, accusing it of repressing Anglophone citizens both politically and economically for decades. The Senators also cite the Yaounde administration’s corruption and allegedly fraudulent elections.

The resolution calls for targeted smart sanctions against armed actors implicated in human rights abuses, it demands unfettered humanitarian access to the conflict zone, it calls for the Biya government to participate in mediated talks to address the root causes of the conflict, and it commits the US to continue to limit its security assistance to Cameroon.

Lord Alton of Liverpool has raised the Anglophone issue in Parliament since the outbreak of the conflict. Commenting on the US Congress resolution he said, “This now puts additional pressure on the British government, as the former colonial power in the Southern Cameroons. The UK must apply targeted smart sanctions against armed individuals implicated in human rights abuses in this devastating conflict. It is no longer possible for Britain to maintain a detached position while millions of Africans who cherish their English legal and school systems, and the English language, are asking for our moral support. The UK must exercise its diplomatic influence to press the regime of President Biya to attend mediated peace talks.”

In an interview with Independent Catholic News, Dr. Chris Fomunyoh, senior director for Africa at the National Democratic Institute in Washington DC, and a native of Cameroon commented, “It is remarkable that the US Senate adopted such a bipartisan resolution, given the very polarized nature of current US politics. There is a reason to believe that the resolution will significantly shape or influence US policy toward Cameroon under the new Biden/Harris administration.”

Dr. Fomunyoh continued, “One of the innovations with Resolution 684 is its reference to targeted sanctions against perpetrators and proponents of violence, whether in uniform or among civilian leadership or among the armed groups. Certainly, the killings and atrocities that have become the hallmarks of this conflict can no longer be condoned.”

The Congressional resolution condemns the excessive force used by Cameroon armed forces in crushing peaceful protests against the imposition of French laws and schooling in the Anglophone regions. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that 700,000 are internally displaced by the violence, and another 60,000 have fled to Nigeria. The US resolution notes the burning of villages, live ammunition used against non-violent protestors, and the arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture of opposition leaders. The UN Children’s Fund reports that 855,000 students have been unable to attend school for the last four years.

The Biya regime responded to increasing international pressure by holding a Major National Dialogue in October 2019. However, many Anglophone leaders were afraid to attend in case they were detained and jailed. Since the meeting, the security situation has deteriorated, with massacres, including the killing of seven schoolchildren in Kumba in October. The Catholic church has been foremost in rallying moderate civil society opinion against the violent extremes of all sides to the conflict. Its members have faced intimidation and kidnapping, and the murder of several priests.

Dr. Fomunyoh says the US resolution may now put pressure on other world leaders to follow suit. “Friends of Cameroon and of humanity can no longer be indifferent to ongoing mayhem and utter destruction. The government of Cameroon and the armed groups have to understand what the world is saying, as captured by the US Senate Resolution 684: there is no military solution to this conflict. What is needed is a mediated negotiated solution that addresses the root causes of blatant Anglophone marginalisation and alienation in Cameroon.”