By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Some members of the US Congress have written to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary Austin alarmed by the ongoing campaign of “state-sponsored violence in the Anglophone region” and seeking to know whether U.S. security assistance “may be contributing to serious human rights abuses.”
In a letter signed by Ilhan Omar, Karen Bass and Sara Jacobs, the Members of Congress said: “We are particularly concerned in U.S. support for the Rapid Intervention Battalion, BIR, some elements of which have been accused by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, amongst others, as having been directly implicated in atrocities in the Anglophone regions. As you are aware, the State Department has reprogrammed some security assistance since 2019, but our understanding is that other assistance – including to the BIR – continues.”
“We also have questions about the efficacy of existing laws in preventing U.S. security assistance from reaching human rights violators. In 2020, the State Department Inspector General found that nearly 80 per cent of Leahy vetting requests submitted by Embassy Yaounde between 2018 and late 2019 were submitted to Washington too late to allow for sufficient processing and that as a result, Washington had an average of four days to process the request, instead of the ten working days stipulated in the Department’s 2017 Leahy Vetting Code.”
The Member of the U.S. Congress added: “We share the Administration’s stated desire to put human rights at the centre of our foreign policy. We also recognize the need for a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to combating transnational terrorist threats that includes a security component. Our concern in Cameroon and elsewhere is with the potential diversion of U.S. security assistance and more broadly, that support for security forces that commit human rights violations- apart from being incompatible with American values and illegal under U.S. law – is counterproductive to the very aims of counterterrorism.”
Representatives Omar, Bass and Jacobs have thus called on Secretary Blinken and Secretary Anthony requesting detailed answers to some questions which include how does security assistance fit into a larger strategy for our bilateral relationship with Cameroon? Is the State Department currently able to conduct Leahy vetting promptly in Cameroon? Has the reported redeployment of some security force personnel from the Far North to western Anglophone regions raised challenges for Leahy vetting and U.S. security assistance focused on the Far North, and if so, what is the Administration’s strategy to overcome those challenges?