Cameroon has lost privileged access to the US market offered under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
Last week, the Trump administration announced it intends to cut trade benefits for Cameroon by January 1, 2020, citing persistent human rights violations in the country.
AGOA allows sub-Saharan African countries to export to the US without a customs duty, provided the country’s government has established or is making progress toward establishing, rule of law, political pluralism, fair trial and due process standards, and equal protection under the law.
In his message to Congress, President Trump said Cameroon has failed to address concerns regarding government forces’ persistent human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and torture.
Human Rights Watch has documented serious human rights abuses committed by the Cameroonian security forces both in the Far North region and in the Anglophone regions since 2017. These include killing of civilians, burning of hundreds of homes, and the systematic use of torture and incommunicado detention.
This is the second time in a year the US has taken action on Cameroon. In February, Washington scaled back its military assistance to Cameroon, also citing allegations of human rights abuses.
Trump’s recent announcement comes after Cameroon adopted a special status for the two Anglophone regions and released hundreds of political prisoners, including prominent opposition party leader Maurice Kamto. While these are positive steps, the government’s crackdown on political space and serious violations in their counter response to separatist violence continue.
Last week, authorities banned three meetings planned by Kamto’s party, the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC). Defying the meeting ban, hundreds of MRC supporters gathered in the capital, Yaoundé, on November 2 before anti-riot police violently dispersed them. Witnesses reported police severely beat and injured at least ten demonstrators. Thirty-three MRC members and supporters were arrested but released the same day.
The US termination of the designation of Cameroon as a beneficiary country under AGOA should be a wake-up call to the Cameroon government and should stir action from other international partners to Cameroon to publicly address serious human rights concerns in the country.