Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Human Rights in Cameroon - A Call to Action

By: Sara McNaughton and Bonnie Worstell, UNA-NCA Program Assistants

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a briefing in the afternoon of Friday, June 15th, led by Congressman James P. McGovern (D-MA) along with a panel of experts, concerning human rights abuses and the presence of Boko Haram in Cameroon.

Cameroon is actively involved in a vicious cycle of violence involving the Francophone government against the marginalized Anglophone minority. The government limits access to the internet (thus restricting freedom of expression), represses peaceful protesters, and carries out despicable human rights violations including, but not limited to: arbitrary arrests, unjust trials, kidnappings, scorched earth tactics, extreme torture, and murder. The separatists’ response has been similarly violent. Amnesty International reported on various attacks by separatists on teachers, students, security forces, and others who show sympathy to the government.

President Paul Biya, along with his Francophone government, has led Cameroon since 1982. Biya eliminated term limits in 2008 and is up for re-election in 2018. He demonstrates tendencies of an authoritarian leader and the upcoming elections are predicted to be manipulated and non-legitimate, with opposition parties facing repression and even jail time. Due to these circumstances, it is highly probable that Biya will come out victorious in the election and continue current trends of violence and repression. The uncertainty for the future in a post-Biya Cameroon troubles the international community, as he turned 85 earlier this year. Biya’s extended and personalized regime created a nation characterized by conflict and weak institutions. Therefore, it is unlikely that the government will be able to handle a peaceful transition of power.

Another concern for the panelists is the threat of a terrorist organization, Boko Haram, in the northern part of Cameroon. Terrorist organizations are like a virus: they will find the weak spot to attack and spread their influence. Violence coming from both the government and the separatists alike, poor and unequal governance, corruption, and decentralization create conditions for terrorism to flourish, thus driving many to join Boko Haram because they see it as their lone solution.

Cameroon is a vital partner in United States defense operations in efforts against regional terrorism and extremism, and therefore the U.S. has a vested interest for diplomatic intervention in the budding crisis in Cameroon. Congress must emit a clear signal that the current relationship between the two nations may be re-examined if the issues in Cameroon persist. The U.S. must use its influence to promote democratic values and freedoms such as freedom of speech, press, and assembly by encouraging, supporting, and holding Cameroon’s government accountable to holding legitimate elections this October.

Dr. Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group supplied potential key policy recommendations for the situation in Cameroon. He highlighted the necessity for a credible investigation into all claims emerging from the conflict to be conducted by an independent organization such as the United Nations. Additionally, Mr. Akwei from Amnesty International recommended that Congress should request U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) release the report of the investigation they conducted regarding allegations of secret torture orchestrated by US-trained Cameroonian forces. Government officials have been reluctant to engage in dialogue with Anglophone separatists, denying propositions from peaceful leaders and even jailing them as a silencing tactic. The Trump administration must pressure Cameroon to limit the expenditure of lethal force, abolish arbitrary arrests, and partake in reconciliation with the opposition with the help of an independent mediator.

Assuring legitimate elections in October remains one of the most vital solutions to decreasing tensions in Cameroon. If the government continues to hold power illegitimately, marginalization will persist, possibly resulting in further extremism and increased tensions.

The continued issues with Boko Haram in the North cannot be ignored. The U.S. should support de-radicalization programs for members of Boko Haram who wish to disband from the organization and reintegrate into society.

Currently, the UN has several agencies active in Cameroon working on various projects. The UN Refugee Agency is providing relief items to those affected, legal assistance, shelter materials, and sanitation facilities. The Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs is working on a mapping project to track elections, conflict, and refugees. The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women is supporting Women Cohesion Spaces that “provide safe spaces where women refugees and survivors [of Boko Haram] can access a package of services, including psychological treatment and economic assistance” according to the agency. Increased U.S. Congressional support of the United Nations to conduct an independent investigation of human rights abuses in Cameroon would heighten the UN’s pressure on Cameroon’s government and the separatists to engage in dialogue, as well as appoint a moderator.

Overall, U.S. citizens have an important responsibility to advocate for Congressional involvement in Cameroon. Having a clear indication that constituents are in favor of intervention is essential in eliciting a congressional response. Like panelist Mr. Temin said, “constituents are what make congress move and make congress work.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Why MUN Matters: Networking & Advocacy

By Thomas Liu
Finalist for the 2018 Student Secretary-General of the Spring Model UN Conference
12th Grader at Langley High School in McLean, VA

This year, my five-year long Model UN career ended. As the new secretariat of Langley High School’s MUN team was elected, the seniors officially said goodbye one last time. As I sat and reflected on my MUN memories, I asked myself the essential questions: why I do MUN and what does MUN mean to me?

As an immigrant, when I first arrived in the United States in 8th Grade, I was a shy student without any confidence. During middle school MUN, I was left alone, I always sat in the back of the committee, speaking only once or twice throughout the whole conference. However, when I tried out for Langley’s nationally ranked Model UN team, still as a shy freshman, the senior officers gave me a chance and invited me to attend VAMUN hosted by the University of Virginia. That was my first out of twenty-six MUN conferences that I attended with Langley MUN.

Other than the irreplaceable friends and family that I’ve made within Langley MUN, Model UN thought me two major lessons: Networking & Advocacy.

Networking is an essential element in MUN and in real life. I first got involved with GCDC by accident, through an online post recruiting volunteers for the 2016 Spring Conference. Fortunately, I served as the Vice Chair of the Security Council Committee as the only high school student staff. Then, I found myself attending UNA-USA’s annual conference and became a member of our local UNA-NCA chapter. Without the mentorship and encouragement of Mr. Ed Elmendorf and without the networking skills that I have learned through MUN, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Through my networking and my introduction to UNA-NCA, I am now a member of the UNA- NCA Sustainable Development Committee and a staunch advocate for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). From leading and speaking at the first Congressional event on the SDGs broadcasted nationwide last summer to help organize DC’s premier diplomatic forum on the SDGs, I have fully utilized skill-sets which I have picked up from MUN and implementing them in a real-life situation, advocating for the SDGs. Model UN to me isn’t about winning gavels, it’s about making friends, networking, and advocacy.