The conflict in Cameroon is making the lives of people with disabilities even more challenging.
Some are being attacked, according to a new report, while others are caught in a crossfire due to limited mobility.
The result is that the human rights of some of the most vulnerable Cameroonians are being disregarded.
The central African nation has been engaged in a war since 2016, and a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) published on Monday has identified “at least 20 cases in which government forces killed people with disabilities as they struggled to flee attacks, or because they were left behind.”
The organisation reports that people living with disabilities have also been attacked or kidnapped by armed separatists and government security forces.
Cameroon soldiers shot dead a man with hearing & intellectual disabilities when he did not answer their questions. Just one of the frightful stories documented as @hrw investigated how people with disabilities are affected by Anglophone crisis: https://t.co/kTjkHu8HqG#Ambazoniapic.twitter.com/KBVUoFda1V— Bede Sheppard (@BedeOnKidRights) August 5, 2019
One such incident involves an intellectually disabled man who was shot dead in Ndu in the north-west region of the country last December.
An eye witness told HRW: “He was walking, the gendarmes [paramilitary police officers] stopped him and started talking to him.”
“Since he was always laughing each time a person spoke to him, he started laughing at the gendarmes, and they got angry,” they said. “They shot him and drove off. He was shot in the head and the chest; he died instantly.”
People with disabilities have also been similarly abused, says the report, by government officials and forces.
“Government forces have also physically assaulted, harassed, and threatened people with disabilities during security operations searching for armed separatists,” HRW states.
“In Jan. 2019, gendarmes, policemen, and soldiers arrested a 24-year-old man with an intellectual disability in Tobin village, north-west region, after firing live ammunition into his home,” the report continues.
An eye witness, the father of the 24-year-old man, said: “I was sitting in the veranda when two bullets almost hit me. The security forces then came in, said they were looking for separatists, and took my son without any explanation.”
“When I took him out, I found that he had bruises on his forehead and feet,” he continued. “I suspect that he was beaten in detention.”
Meanwhile in Meluf village, also in the north-west region, a woman was reportedly attacked by 15 soldiers who ordered her to remove her artificial leg.
“They watched me crawling and laughed,” she told HRW. “They asked me where the Amba [separatists] lived and I replied that I didn’t know. Since they seized my medication, I have been ill.”
Cameroon is divided into two zones: the francophone one where French is spoken, and the English-speaking region that’s been at war for three years.
The violence is estimated to have claimed 2,000 lives as well as displacing half a million people from their homes. It has been called Africa’s “next civil war” and a “genocide” by the Guardian and the Washington Post.
As well as being attacked and killed, people with disabilities have also reportedly been abused at checkpoints controlled by security forces or at roadblocks manned by separatists; usually when they are fleeing from violence.
One of them is a 43-year-old woman who was mocked by policemen at a checkpoint in Nsoh, north-west region. At first, a policeman demanded her ID card before making her skip a rope.
“He mocked me and told me in French: ‘I want you to jump over this rope.’ His colleague told him to leave me alone because of my disability, but the policeman asked me to jump four more times, before giving up and insulting me because I am anglophone,” she told HRW.
The loss of life, and the chaos left behind for those who survive the attacks, comes with feelings of helplessness.
“I encountered a lot of difficulties while fleeing because I had to support my pregnant wife and my 2-year-old child,” explains a 27-year-old man from Guzang, in the north-west region.
“Before getting a car, we had to walk for 2 km through the bushes,” he continued. “As I use a crutch it was impossible for me to carry any luggage, so I left empty-handed with only the clothes I wore.”
A 24-year-old blind student also recalls his experiences in the report.
“Not only did I lose everything, including my school certificates, but I had to escape by myself because I am [an] orphan,” he said. “I was very scared during the journey because I can’t see around me, I can’t see the danger coming.”
A 37-year-old single mother also recalls how she hid in the bushes with her family to escape further harm when her village was raided by security forces.
“Everyone ran, and I panicked because I couldn’t go as fast as others,” she said. “I had to use a small tree branch as a walking cane to support myself and move faster. My sister walked at my pace to help me. We spent three days in the bushes, sleeping on the ground, with no food.”
The war, an official from an organisation that works with people with disabilities told HRW, has become a painful reminder challenges faced by people with disabilities.
“Even prior to this crisis, they found it difficult to access basic services, including education, employment, and health care," the spokesperson said. "They also suffered from discrimination.”