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Cameroonians Escaping Boko Haram Terrorist Group get rejected by their communities, face several forms of violence after returning home

Sali Bobo, a Cameroon-based rights advocate, says even those lucky enough to have escaped the militants find that peace remains frustratingly elusive

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Refugees. Image source: VOA

Hundreds of Cameroonians living in northern Nigeria, near territory controlled by the Boko Haram terrorist group, are escaping atrocities and returning to their villages of birth with the hope of finding peace. Rights groups, however, say the returnees are rejected by their communities and face several forms of violence.

One hundred returnees who recently arrived at the northern Cameroon border village of Zamai, where people such as Zenabou Abu, 40, talk of the lengthy treks required to find peace and stability.

Abu, who escaped the Sambisa forest stronghold of Boko Haram along the Cameroon-Nigeria border, walked for three weeks — with her eight children in two — to get here. It was upon arriving that she saw her husband for the first time in four years, and finally learned from old friends that her parents had departed Zamai 36 years ago, when she was a kid getting settled in Sambisa with cattle ranchers.

At Zamai’s joint Cameroonian-UN operated resettlement camp, Houli Bernadette attends to pregnant and sick returnees. One of them, a 15-year-old girl, had been forced to marry a Boko Haram member.

“She was asked to stop school and forced to get married to a Boko Haram agent when she was 14,” says Bernadette “She says the girl’s husband is wanted by law enforcement authorities for selling stolen cattle and handing the money to Boko Haram fighters.”

UN: 25,000 killed, 2.5 million displaced

Since Boko Haram began launching attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger three years ago, the group has destroyed villages and killed residents, especially men who refused to join them. According to United Nations estimates, some 25,000 have been killed and more that 2.5 million have been displaced.

Sali Bobo, a Cameroon-based rights advocate, says even those lucky enough to have escaped the militants find that peace remains frustratingly elusive.

“They are deeply traumatized because one day they saw foreigners arrive in their villages and slaughter their husbands and male children,” he says. “Memories of the horror keep coming to their minds, especially when they see people they have never seen before. They’re scared and find it very difficult to communicate.”

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Beyond being perceived as outsiders, Bobo adds, new arrivals are forced to compete with locals for limited resources. Displaced women and girls, who are extremely poor if not homeless, frequently suffer sexual harassment and sometimes rape, he says.

“The returnees, who are mainly women and children, [are ordered] to obey the people of Zamai village who have agreed to host them,” said Ibrahim Hamaoua, Zamai’s traditional ruler of Zamai, explaining that conflicts over food and water erupt regularly.

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“Within the past two months, hundreds of returnees have complained of hunger and thirst,” he added. “The villagers are not happy because they themselves have not had enough to eat and drink.”

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In February, the United Nations called on the governments of Cameroon and Nigeria to ensure that areas purportedly liberated from Boko Haram forces are truly safe for people returning home. (VOA)

 

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Concerns Rise Over China’s Stand at United Nations Human Rights Council

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing's human rights record during the most recent process.

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The 22nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva on Feb. 25, 2013. RFA

Rights activists are increasingly worried that Beijing’s influence operations are having a negative impact on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which concludes its 40th session on Friday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) China director Sophie Richardson warned in an article this week that China is seeking to undermine the mission of the U.N. Human Rights Council from within.

She also cited HRW research in 2017 which reported threats and harassment of U.N. staff involved in human rights evaluation by Chinese officials.

“As we head towards the final phase of [China’s U.N. human rights review], ask yourself: What other government threatens #humanrights treaty body experts?” Richardson tweeted on Thursday.

“As an [Human Rights Council] member #China is expected to uphold highest standards,” she wrote in another tweet, referencing a report in The New York Times. “Instead it tells people that merely attending an event is a ‘hostile act.'”

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During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council. VOA

According to HRW’s 2017 article based on a 97-page report: “Chinese officials have at times harassed and intimidated U.N. staff, experts on treaty bodies, and independent experts focusing on specific human rights issues.”

The 2014 death in detention of activist Cao Shunli, who was detained on her way to a U.N. human rights event in Geneva, also sent a “chilling” message to Chinese activists who may want to participate in the U.N. human rights process, the article said.

HRW isn’t the only human rights organization worried about Chinese influence at the U.N.

Renee Xia, who heads the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, reported from a side-event of the Human Rights Council conference in Geneva this week that it was “standing room only.”

“Strong show of interest despite #China urging countries not to attend,” Xia tweeted.

“The strong attendance was more remarkable esp. after #China officials went to many countries’ diplomats at the U.N., Geneva, to threaten them with “serious consequences” if they attended the side events,” she wrote in another tweet.

“#Bullying at the UN must stop!” she wrote.

‘So many restrictions’

Wang Dan, a former leader of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square, is also in Geneva this week.

“To tell you the truth, my feelings during my two days here are that China has huge influence at the U.N.,” Wang told RFA.

“For example, at one side-event, it wasn’t just the Chinese delegation who spoke against [criticisms of Beijing’s rights record], but other countries came to speak in support of China’s position,” he said.

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“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights, Pixabay

Wang said tight controls over public speech also make it less likely that the ruling Chinese Communist Party will have to face criticism of human rights violations coming from within its own borders.

“There are a lot of people online in China, but they are under so many restrictions,” he said. “You can’t mention the Tiananmen Massacre. You can’t mention [late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner] Liu Xiaobo. You can’t say this, you can’t say that.”

“I don’t think that’s how you define freedom … but then the Chinese point to the U.N. charter, which says that all member states must be respected,” he said.

‘Autocratic rule the default’

Veteran New York-based rights activist Liu Qing said the work of the council had become “unrecognizable” to him.

“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights,” Liu told RFA.

“The only purpose of these countries in insinuating themselves into the Human Rights Council is to curb the positive role of the Human Rights Council and make autocratic rule the default setting on the international stage,” he said.

Amnesty International blogger Shao Jiang wrote in December 2018 that Beijing is reinterpreting universal human rights as merely the right to survival, freedom to access food, and regards other definitions of human rights as secondary to trade and economic development.

“The Chinese government has appointed government officials as independent experts into the UN’s Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, and the U.N. treaty bodies,” Shao said.

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing’s human rights record during the most recent process.

During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council.

Also Read: Myanmar Government Calls Ethnic Armed Groups To Attend Collective Peace Discussions For The First Time

The United Nations now reports annually on government reprisals against human rights defenders participating in U.N. human rights efforts, Richardson wrote in an article in The Hill last December.

“China has topped the list of offenders in every report issued,” she said. (RFA)