A Non-International Armed Conflict against Boko Haram in Cameroon’s Far North

13 November 2020

Cameroon is engaged in a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) against Boko Haram in the Far North region.

Our Rule of Law in Armed Conflict (RULAC) online portal provides a detailed analysis of this conflict, including information about parties, classification and applicable international law.

A Dramatic Increase of Boko Haram’s Presence in Cameroon

Boko Haram has been present in Cameroon since 2009. Following armed confrontations between fighters and Nigerian security forces in Maiduguri, a number of fighters crossed the border and sought refuge in Cameroon’s Far North region. Over the following years, Boko Haram’s presence in Cameroon evolved dramatically. While at first, the armed group was rather passive, it started recruiting Cameroonians as fighters between 2011 and 2013 and used the Far North region as a safe haven.

The first armed confrontation registered between the armed group and state armed forces took place in March 2014. Between 2014 and 2016, Boko Haram started carrying out attacks against the armed forces and the civilian population, focusing in particular on abductions and kidnapping of foreigners and suicide bombing.

While the intensity of violence has diminished but it has not ceased in 2016 and 2017, fighting increased again in 2018 and has continued since then.

‘Both the intensity of the armed violence opposing the Cameroon armed forces and Boko Haram, as well as the level of organization of Boko Haram in Cameroon, allow us to conclude to the existence of a NIAC’ underlines Dr Chiara Redaelli, Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy.

Map of the RULAC online portal with the pop-up window on the non-international armed conflicts in Cameroon

Vigilante Groups in Northern Cameroon

In a worrying development, vigilante groups have emerged to fight against Boko Haram in the Far North.

‘Our analysis – developed on our RULAC online portal – does not allow us to conclude that vigilante groups are a party to the conflict because they do not meet the organization requirement’ explains Dr Chiara Redaelli.

Violence in the Northwest and Southwest Regions involving Anglophone Separatist Groups

Since late 2017, Cameroon’s armed forces, including an elite combat unit Rapid Intervention Battalion (RIB), have been involved in armed confrontations against a number of Anglophone separatist groups operating in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, in particular the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC) and its military wing (the Ambazonia Defense Forces, ADF) and the Interim Government of Ambazonia (IG) and its military wing (the Ambazonia Self-Defence Council, ASC).

Our RULAC online portal provides a detailed analysis of both the armed confrontations between the government and separatist groups, as well as of these groups and their organization.

‘While confrontations have increased since 2017, both the level of armed violence as well as the level of organization of the separatist groups do not meet the threshold required by IHL to consider this situation as a NIAC’ says Dr Chiara Redaelli.

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