On Thursday, 13 June 2019, regular Juicy Ecumenism contributor Scott Morgan testified before Canada’s House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights regarding the human rights situation in Cameroon. Mr. Morgan, who currently serves as the Chairman of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable’s Africa Working Group, shared his personal thoughts and insights with the Subcommittee by video before participating in a Q&A session with Canadian MPs.
Mr. Morgan’s testimony highlighted the false narratives put forth by malign actors seeking to obscure the frightening truth about the horrific human rights abuses and violations taking place in Cameroon. These false narratives, such as the state-versus-separatists narrative, ignore the role that religion plays in motivating these abuses.
Additionally, Mr. Morgan underscored the role that social media platforms have played in suppressing accurate information and purveying fake news in and about Cameroon. For example, Mr. Morgan stated that many Voice of America (VOA) employees covering Cameroon are paid discretely by CRTV, a state-owned news agency in Cameroon, to provide favorable coverage of the Cameroonian government. With concern, Mr. Morgan described the reasons why the UN Security Council will be unable to resolve the situation in Cameroon. He noted recent commitments made by China and Russia to veto further Security Council resolutions on addressing the situation. To address these challenges, Mr. Morgan suggested that the African Union consider suspending Cameroon from the bloc until the ongoing human rights violations there are adequately addressed (the African Union has taken similar actions regarding the current situation in Sudan).
Finally, Mr. Morgan issued a challenge to the Canadian government, urging Canada to step up its presence in the international community as a mediator of conflicts. Mr. Morgan believes that Canada is uniquely suited to address the ongoing situation in Cameroon, given its historic ties to the African nation and the generally positive reputation Canada maintains in the international community.
Following Mr. Morgan’s testimony, he engaged in a brief question-and-answer period with Canadian MPs. First, David Anderson (Conservative-SK) asked Mr. Morgan a question regarding atrocities committed on the ground in Cameroon. Mr. Morgan replied by informing the Committee members that the United Arab Emirates supplies arms to the government of Cameroon and that these arms are often used by local commanders to escalate violence on the ground. Mr. Morgan also expressed concern that DC-based lobbying firms, such as Squire Patton Boggs and GPG, assist the Cameroonian government by obscuring the truth about human rights violations taking place within the country’s borders.
Second, Marwan Tabbara (Liberal-ON) asked Mr. Morgan about calls for dialogue between the involved parties in Cameroon. He informed the MP that calls for dialogue are a new development but that talks are unlikely due to the fact that the government of Cameroon either says that there is currently “no problem” with human rights abuses or that any current problems are simply “internal matters.”
Finally, Cheryl Hardcastle (NDP-ON), asked Mr. Morgan about the role of Nigeria in the situation in Cameroon, to which he replied that Nigeria has a stake in what goes in the country and that some of the same societal rifts found in Nigeria are spilling over into Cameroon. Mr. Morgan concluded his response to this question by recommending that the government of Canada reach out through the Commonwealth to the Peace and Security Council of the African Union in order to address this situation further.
Mr. Morgan’s written testimony:
Testimony to Canada’s House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights Regarding Cameroon
Good afternoon. My name is Scott Morgan, and I am the Chair of the Africa Working Group for the International Religious Freedom Roundtable in Washington, D.C. Although the group includes various representations from several religious groups, it should be noted that I am making these remarks on my own behalf.
It would be a great disservice to proceed without thanking MP David Anderson for the invitation to brief the honorable members of the Parliament and for his service defending freedom of religion or belief.
The issue of defending religious liberty in Cameroon is a difficult task at this time. The media is eager to categorize the violence as a one-dimensional conflict between the state and separatists and overlook the religious components. How can we turn a blind eye to the death in Cameroon of Indiana-born missionary Charles Trumann Wesco, who left behind eight young children, or the murder of innocent priests traveling for training?
Moreover, the abduction of Cameroonian students at Saint Augustin’s College and another Presbyterian school highlight another debate over religious education. Attempting to coerce English-speakers in Cameroon to switch to French as their primary language has been viewed by most everyone as the root cause of the perilous violence in the Southwest Anglophone region.
The issue in which Mbororos are being forced to swear loyalty to the government can be viewed as a counterintelligence strategy. This gives the government some cover so as to vindicate the arbitrary and devastating deaths of priests, nuns, seminary students, and missionaries. This action will likely exacerbate the conflict and even transform it into a recognized religious struggle, and it appears that this is the price that the Biya government is willing to pay to remain in power.
The repatriation of refugees back to Nigeria soon after the Buhari reelection is also a matter of grave concern when considering the lack of safety of Nigerians in their home country, rampant with violence at the hands of Boko Haram. The silence over the refugees from the Central African Republic, and the reports of Seleka and Anti-Balaka militants recruiting fighters in the camps, combined with all of the above issues, work together to create a ticking time bomb that must be addressed before the situation further intensifies.
The Biya government has done an excellent job at media spin . Several videos that have appeared on social media platforms have been discredited as propaganda or fake news. This makes verification of various and potentially treacherous incidents more difficult. Local stringers for iInternational media outlets are actually working for CRTV. The Cameroon government has taken other measures to ensure that these atrocities do not see the light of day. I am willing to explain some of their moves in Washington during the Q&A.
Recently, there have been many requests for the Canadian government to step in and mediate to help resolve this conflict, considering the history regarding the Quebec issue. Mediation may be the only viable solution for this conflict. In a recent statement, US Undersecretary of State for Africa, Tibor Nagy, stressed the necessity for mediation as well. This statement can be read as an official policy by the Trump Administration. I urge a consultation with Mr. Nagy as soon as possible. H Res 358, which has been introduced in the US Congress, also calls for mediation to take place and be conducted by the religious community. Having a provision to safeguard the leaders not mentioned is an oversight in the US Legislation. This could be an easy solution for Canada to suggest as well.
It appears that the UN will take no action to eradicate the conflict. Therefore, working with key members of the Commonwealth in the AU could be a potential avenue to use for stopping the violence instead. The suspension of the CMAG for this year should not be used as a reason not to take action regarding this critical situation. The recent actions by the African Union in suspending Sudan for the egregious actions of The Military Council after their ouster of former President Bashir could be a model for what should be done regarding Cameroon, if properly discussed by its peers. The situation is urgent and so I urge the Canadian government to act quickly.
I am happy to answer any questions.